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Islands in sight

By Xuyang Jingjing  (Global Times)

08:18, August 23, 2012

About one nautical mile from the Diaoyu Islands, the fishing boat was severely damaged by repeated collisions with Japanese patrol vessels. Wu Xiyao jumped into the water, made it ashore and planted a Chinese flag that he had been carrying for six years.

Dozens of armed Japanese coast guards patrolled the island. Wu and other crew members managed to make it about 40 meters before being seized.

Wu, 45, from Macao, is among 14 Chinese activists who went to sea to assert China's sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands. They were arrested by the Japanese upon arrival on August 15 and released two days later.

Simple motives

These grass-roots activists have been making waves around the Diaoyu Islands for decades. Although motivated by "heroic and patriotic sentiments," the activists often find themselves in an awkward position as their government may not welcome the diplomatic ripples they cause. However, they are determined to keep up their actions and push the government to resolve the disputes.

For people like Wu, the motive is pure and simple. "It is a matter of national esteem and pride," Wu, the director-general of a trade union in Macao, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The purpose of the grass-roots campaigns is to grab the government's attention and hopefully exert some pressure so that the country may take back the Diaoyu Islands, which are currently controlled by Japan.

These efforts started among the overseas Chinese diaspora in the 1970s when Japan set up a monument on the island to declare its sovereignty, and soon spread to China.

In 1996, the then Japanese foreign minister Yukihiko Ikeda said during a visit to Hong Kong that the Diaoyu Islands belonged to Japan. A new round of protests ensued and people began sailing out to the islands, attempting to prove China's sovereignty.

Groups were formed to defend this cause in the mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao. Though these groups did have exchanges, no unified organization existed until earlier this year when the World Chinese Alliance in Defense of the Diaoyu Islands (WCADD) was founded.

"It shows that we have agreed that defending Diaoyu concerns all of us as Chinese," said Huang Hsi-lin, director of the alliance and also head of the Chung Hwa Paotiao Alliance, a Taiwanese organization defending Chinese sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands. Huang, 50 and a former congressman, now devotes most of his time as an activist defending Diaoyu.

Despite rifts between the mainland and Taiwan or Hong Kong, the activists believe these spats do not affect their consorted efforts to defend the islands.

Huang believes the Diaoyu Islands could be a good starting point for the mainland and Taiwan to resolve their political differences.

"We hope to push the mainland and Taiwan authorities closer together in dealing with the islands," said Huang, who takes the Chinese national flag with him whenever he goes on missions to land on Diaoyu.

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