BEIJING — Regional tempers flared in Asia on Wednesday — the anniversary of the end of World War II — after Japan arrested more than a dozen Chinese activists who had landed on a disputed island in the East China Sea.
The conflict is the latest in a string of blowups over the disputed island territories and exacerbated tensions on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in 1945 — a date that still stirs up bad blood among its neighbors because of the brutal Japanese occupation during the war.
Shortly after the activists’ arrest, China vowed to lodge a formal complaint with Japan.
The activists, more than a dozen in all, had set out from Hong Kong for the islands— called Diaoyu by the Chinese and Senkaku by Japan. They carried with them five Chinese flags, intending to evade Japanese authorities patrolling the islands and use the flags to claim the territory for China.
Many Chinese activists have embarked on similar forays in recent years, and several have been turned away Japanese authorities.
According to the group behind Wednesday’s attempt, the party encountered setbacks along the way, including problems with weather and lost food supplies before finally nearing the island Wednesday afternoon.
The group’s representative said they managed to evade several Japanese coast guard boats, which tried to pummel them with water cannons. Japanese authorities said they arrested five of the activists after some of them managed to swim ashore the island.
A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement urging Japan to refrain from doing anything that would endanger Chinese citizens or their property.
And on the same day the Chinese activists were arrested, a group of South Koreans, who likewise harbor a grudge stemming from the war, swam to a different group of islands in dispute between South Korea and Japan, in a another sign of protest. The Korean event, however, centered around a 220-kilometer relay swim that was led by a South Korean pop singer.
Their swim followed a controversial first-ever visit last week to that set of islands by a South Korean president — an event that caused Japan to lodge a formal complaint of its own with South Korea and order its senior diplomat to return from Seoul.