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Japan deports Chinese held in islands dispute

August 18, 2012

HONG KONG: Japan quieted a regional spat on Friday by quickly deporting several Chinese arrested for landing on disputed islands in the East China Sea, but activists' vows to make new trips there could again inflame territorial tensions.    

Five of the activists and two reporters accompanying them were greeted with cheers, applause and bouquets from dozens of supporters at Hong Kong's airport after arriving on a commercial flight from Japan's southern island of Okinawa.

All 14 of the group — eight activists, two reporters and four boat crew members — had travelled by boat from Hong Kong to the uninhabited islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan. They were arrested on Wednesday after five of them landed without authorization in the island group, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. The last seven deportees departed on their own boat later on Friday, accompanied part of the way by Japanese patrol vessels to make sure they left Japanese waters without approaching the islands again, the Coast Guard said. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Japan would not charge the activists and denied any political consideration.

“The decision is strictly based on domestic laws, not swayed by emotions,” he said.     Some of the activists had thrown concrete blocks onto coast guard patrol boats but did not cause any injury or major damage that would subject them to criminal charges, Fujimura said.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called the incident “extremely regrettable.” Other ministers said they will study how they can block future landing attempts, including possibly increasing the penalty for illegally landing on the islands.

China had demanded the activists' immediate release, and protesters in Beijing, Hong Kong and other cities praised the activists as heroes and burned Japanese flags. Japan's swiftness in deporting them was seen as an attempt to avoid further inflaming protests.—AP