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Okinawans frustrated at Govt's handling of Senkaku activists

Date Posted: 2012-08-22

People in Ishigaki, an island city in Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, have expressed discontent at Japanese authorities' decision to deport activists arrested for landing on one of Japanese-controlled disputed islands in the East China Sea back to China as early as Friday.

A total of 14 foreigners had reached Uotsurijima, one of the islands, aboard a ship sent from a Hong Kong group that claims China's sovereignty over the islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Of them, five who call themselves Chinese were arrested by Okinawa Prefectural Police after landing on the islet for violation of the nation's immigration control law. The nine others were arrested by the Japan Coast Guard for illegal entry into Japanese territory in breach of the same law. The islands are under Japan's effective control and are administered by the city of Ishigaki.

Japan is expected to deport the 14 people by tomorrow, concluding that they have committed no offenses other than the immigration law violations. Tsuyoshi Maedomari, 44, an official in Ishigaki of the fishery union of Okinawa Prefecture, said the decision to deport them without punishment could encourage illegal landings on the islands by foreigners. "If there are no penalties, they will think they want to do it again," he said.

Maedomari added that good fishing grounds are limited and that local fishermen thus cannot avoid operating around the islands. "We can't just say, 'let's just go to safer areas'," he explained. According to Maedomari, Japanese fishing boats are sometimes threatened by Chinese ships when operating near the islands. Maedomari said he wants the government to ensure the safety of the Japanese public.

Shizuko Nakamura, a 72-year-old homemaker in Ishigaki, said the government must bring the intruders to justice. The trespassing happened because Japan failed to deal properly with an incident in September 2010 in which a Chinese fishing boat hit Japan Coast Guard ships, she said. "Fishermen cannot feel safe to fish," she adds, pointing out that many of her neighbors live on fishing. "I want the government to take decisive action". In the 2010 case, the captain and crew members of the Chinese boat were held by Japanese authorities but were released and deported later.

Meanwhile, a 56-year-old homemaker said that she hopes to see all problems solved peacefully. She said she would have felt "scared" if the government had decided to try the activists at a Japanese court instead of deporting them back to China. She also said she does not see any benefit in Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara's plan, unveiled in April, to purchase some of the disputed islands from their private-sector owners using the budget of his metropolitan government. It is the people of Ishigaki, including herself, she says, who "suffer the most harm if a problem occurs" after the purchase.

Ishigaki Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama criticized the central government's decision to deport the 14 arrested foreigners, saying the authorities seem to have rushed to close the incident. Nakayama said law-enforcement authorities should have investigated the incident thoroughly, including whether it involved any other criminal acts. Some of the arrested people reportedly threw bricks at Japan Coast Guard vessels.

Already, a Hong Kong-based activist group says it will send its members to the Senkakus again in October. Members of the group called the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, area being deported from last week’s attempt. Hong Kong radio is quoting one of the to-be-deported activists as saying that Japanese Coast Guard vessels collided with their protest ship only two or three times while trying to block access to the islands.

The activist says he felt confident there would be a chance to land because many of the Japanese patrol ships went away when his protest ship sailed closer to one of the islands.

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