HK welcomes home sailors arrested in island row

Published August 22, 2012

| Associated Press

Hong Kong gave a hero's welcome home Wednesday to activists who landed on disputed islands and whose video of their scuffles with Japanese police will likely aggravate nationalist tensions further.

The seven activists were part of a 14-person group that managed to evade the Japanese Coast Guard in a rusty fishing boat to reach the islands a week ago. The group included two reporters from Phoenix TV, which broadcast video for the first time of the activists' desperate confrontation with Japanese officers as they landed on the barren islands.

Known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, the islands are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and may also be near underwater natural gas deposits. They're controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.

In the video, six of the activists are seen clambering over the rocky shoreline. The group wades ashore, advancing toward several dozen Japanese police officers wearing riot gear. One of them waves China's national flag as the officers watch. But as they try to go further, the police block the way. Two of them make a run for it but are tackled by the officers.

The whole group was arrested and quickly expelled from Japan in a move seen as an attempt to soothe tensions. But anti-Japan sentiment flared up anyway in China, where thousands protested last weekend in 10 cities, with some carrying banners demanding Japan give up the islands.

The activists' battered boat was greeted by throngs of supporters as it arrived on Hong Kong's waterfront, where it was also welcomed by the other half of the group who returned by plane earlier. Phoenix also broadcast footage of a Japanese coast guard vessel ramming the activists' boat to try to stop it from reaching the island.

The homecoming by the remaining activists isn't likely to end the crisis. Japan says it will prosecute any Chinese who land on the islands, while the Hong Kong activists have vowed to make another attempt, possibly as soon as October.

Chinese state media warned of possible conflict between Beijing and Tokyo over the islands.

"The tacit agreement between the Chinese and Japanese governments not to enlarge the conflict has fallen apart," the state-run Global Times wrote Wednesday. "The Chinese government probably will have to go by popular will and have a real fight with Japan over the control of the Diaoyu Islands."

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Associated Press writer Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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