* Japan arrests China activists after landing on disputed
* China demands immediate, unconditional release of
* Japanese cabinet ministers visit controversial war dead
* Japan protests South Korean president's emperor remarks
By James Pomfret and Linda Sieg
HONG KONG/TOKYO, Aug 15 China demanded Japan
immediately and unconditionally free 14 Chinese activists held
over a protest landing on disputed islands on Wednesday, as
tensions between Tokyo and its neighbours flared on the
anniversary of the end of World War Two.
The landing by the activists on an island chain in the East
China Sea and their detention by Japan's coast guard came on a
day of regional diplomatic jousting, underscoring how history
dogs Japan's ties with China and South Korea.
In a meeting with Japan's ambassador to Beijing and a phone
call with a Japanese official, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu
Ying lodged "solemn representations" over the latest territorial
quarrel between Asia's two biggest economies.
Fu "demanded that Japan ensure the safety of 14 Chinese
nationals and immediately and unconditionally release them", the
Chinese Foreign Ministry said on its website.
Japan arrested five members of a group of activists from
China, Hong Kong and Macau who landed on the island, Japan's
coastguard said. China's Xinhua news agency said Japan's
coastguard later detained nine activists on their boat. Japanese
media also said that in all, 14 activists had been detained.
Japan refers to the islets, which lie between Taiwan and
Okinawa, as the Senkaku Islands. China calls them the Diaoyu
Earlier, South Korea prompted an official protest from Japan
after comments by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak which
some saw as going too far by insulting Japanese Emperor Akihito.
And in a move likely to add to the anger of Japan's
neighbours, two Japanese cabinet ministers paid homage at a
controversial Tokyo shrine for the war dead.
Memories of Japan's wartime occupation of much of China and
colonisation of South Korea run deep despite close economic ties
in one of the world's wealthiest regions.
Japan protested to China's ambassador over the landing and
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Tokyo would deal with the
matter strictly in accordance with the law.
Xinhua said Japan had pushed tension "to a new high."
"The tensions are fully due to irresponsible clamouring and
attempts by some Japanese politicians and activists to claim the
islands, which ... indisputably belong to China," it said.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said
Washington would not take sides in the dispute between China and
Japan, but wanted to see the matter worked out peacefully.
"We expect the claimants to resolve the issue through
peaceful means, and any kind of provocations are not helpful in
that regard," she told a news briefing.
The U.S. security treaty with Japan obliges the United
States to defend territories under the administration of its
ally Tokyo, including the disputed isles, from attack.
Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said
it was "impossible to answer" a hypothetical question about what
Washington would do in the event the islands were attacked
without knowing all of the specific circumstances.
"However, it is very much in the U.S. interest to make sure
that we exert every ounce of our influence to keep that event
from occurring and I think that's where the diplomatic energy of
the United States is going to be applied," he said.
Friction over the uninhabited isles, near potentially rich
gas deposits, had been heating up already.
Several of the activists, who set out from Hong Kong, jumped
into the sea, swam and waded ashore. The group said its boat had
been rammed by the coastguard and hit with water cannon. A
Japanese official denied that any serious damage had been done
to the boat.
Media published photographs of the activists planting a
Chinese flag on a rocky shore.
"We've waited 10 years for this... We finally managed to get
ashore," the captain of the protest ship was quoted as saying on
Hong Kong television.
A separate row over rival claims by South Korea and Japan
to other islands has also intensified, signalling how the region
has failed to resolve differences nearly seven decades after
Japan's defeat at the end of World War Two.
WARTIME MEMORIES LINGER
The friction in part reflect scepticism over the sincerity
of Japan's apologies for wartime and colonial excesses.
On Tuesday, South Korea's Lee told a group of teachers that
Emperor Akihito should apologise sincerely if he wants to visit
South Korea, saying a repeat of his 1990 expression of "deepest
regrets" would not suffice.
Japan, noting that it had never broached the idea of a visit
by the emperor to South Korea, lodged a protest with Seoul over
the remarks. Akihito has spent much of the past two decades
trying to heal the wounds of a war waged in his father's name.
Lee, whose Friday visit to the islands claimed by South
Korea and Japan frayed ties between the two U.S. allies, called
Japan an "important partner that we should work with to open the
But in remarks commemorating Korea's liberation from Japan's
1910-1945 rule, he also said the countries' tangled history was
"hampering the common march toward a better tomorrow".
He urged Japan to do more to resolve a dispute over
compensation for Korean women abducted to serve as sex slaves
for wartime Japanese soldiers, known by the euphemism "comfort
women" in Japan and long a source of friction.
"It was a breach of women's rights committed during wartime
as well as a violation of universal human rights and historic
justice. We urge the Japanese government to take responsible
measures in this regard," Lee said.
Japan says the matter was closed under a 1965 treaty
establishing diplomatic ties. In 1993, Tokyo issued a statement
in the name of its then-chief cabinet secretary apologising to
the women and two years later set up a fund to make payments to
the women. South Korea says those moves were not official and so
Speaking at a ceremony marking the war's end on Wednesday,
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda acknowledged the
"enormous damage and suffering" caused by Japan to other
countries, especially in Asia.
"We deeply reflect upon (that) and express our deepest
condolences to the victims and their families," he said, vowing
that Japan would never go to war again.
Tapping into anti-Japanese sentiment remains a way to seek
public support in South Korea and China, which face leadership
changes in coming months. And some experts say a new strain of
nationalism is surfacing in Japan amid gloom about the future.
In a sign of the domestic pressures in Japan, National
Public Safety Commission Chairman Jin Matsubara and Transport
Minister Yuichiro Hata visited the Yasukuni shrine for war dead,
defying Noda's urgings to stay away.
Many see the shrine as a symbol of Japan's past militarism
because 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals
by an Allied tribunal are honoured there with Japan's war dead.