Japanese navy force Taiwan boat back from disputed islands
Escorted by Taiwanese coastguard ships, the fishing vessel carried activists who chose to turn back when confronted by the Japanese navy, but pledged to come back. Sino-Japanese row over the Diaoyu Islands continues. Claimed by Beijing and Taipei, they are controlled by Tokyo.

Taipei (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Japanese navy forced a fishing vessel with two protesters and a three-member crew from Taiwan to turn back. Their wanted to reach the East China Sea islands, known as the Diaoyutai in Taiwan, which are claimed by Japan, Taiwan as well as mainland China.

The protest was organised by the Taipei-based Zhong-Hua Baodiao Association. On its website, the group explained that even if their boat was escorted by Taiwan's coastguard, they opted to avoid a confrontation.

The East China Sea islands, known as the Diaoyutai in Taiwan and Senkaku islands in Japanese, are at the centre of a diplomatic row between China and Japan, after a Chinese trawler collided with two Japanese coastguard vessels there last week.

Seized by Japan in 1895, the islands were administered by the United States after the Second World War until control was turned over to Japan in 1972.

The area has rich fishing grounds and activists from the countries involved regularly occupy the islands.

Japan's transport minister, Seiji Maehara, said today that territorial problems “do not exist in the East China Sea,” thus confirming Japan’s refusal to change the status quo.

Meanwhile, three Taiwanese activists said they were returning to Taiwan after sailing to the disputed islets Monday to promote Taiwan's claim to the area.

This comes in the wake of a collision a week ago between a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese patrol boat that had ordered it to move away from the disputed islands.

Japan seized the boat and the crew, but released the latter, except for the captain. A Japanese court has granted prosecutors permission to keep him in custody until 19 September to decide whether to indict him formally on charges of obstructing public duties.

In protest, Beijing postponed “for various reasons” an official visit to Tokyo by Li Jianguo, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, which was set to start tomorrow at the invitation of the Japanese lower house of parliament.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku called China's move “very regrettable,” adding that “In times like these, lawmakers from both countries should be able to talk frankly.

At the same time, the initiative by Taiwanese activists underscores the fact that Taiwan also has claims to the islands, as the Taiwanese coastguard captain noted. It also points to a possible rapprochement between Taiwan and China against Japanese claims.

For their part, activists announced that they would be back. In Taipei, more than 100 protesters gathered peacefully in front of Japan’s interest section in Taipei (Japan switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1972), shouting anti-Japanese slogans and burning a Japanese flag.