Surrounded by Japanese coastguard vessels in rough seas, the seasick group gives up and decides to return home
Thirteen Hong Kong and mainland activists abandoned their plan of landing on the disputed Diaoyu islands yesterday after their boat was circled by Japanese coastguard ships for six hours in rough seas.
The protest - the first local one over the islands in five years - ended with the symbolic burning of a Japanese military flag before the ship turned back and headed for the mainland coast.
'The situation at sea was very bad. The boat couldn't move at all, people started feeling seasick. So in the afternoon, we agreed we should abandon the plan and left,' said Wong Kwok-ho, a Hong Kong-based committee member of the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands.
The 13 activists, three from Hong Kong and 10 from the mainland, reached the disputed waters near the islets at 8am yesterday morning. They were immediately surrounded by Japanese coastguard vessels.
Each of the protesters threw a white chrysanthemum into the sea in memory of David Chan Yuk-cheung, who drowned after he leapt into the sea tied to a rope during a voyage to the islands in the autumn of 1996. That trip, like the latest, was to insist on Chinese sovereignty over the islets.
The efforts at sea were backed by 10 members from the committee who protested outside the Japanese consulate in Central. They marched to the People's Liberation Army headquarters in Tamar, demanding it protect the activists from the Japanese coastguard.
The protest was met with a firm diplomatic position on each side. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said in Beijing that 'Chinese sovereignty over the Diaoyu islands is undisputable. The Diaoyu islands have been Chinese lands since ancient times. Any attempt to seize the islands will never succeed'.
The Japanese consulate issued a statement warning the protest ship not to enter Japanese waters. 'If they enter Japanese waters, we can only use appropriate action to expel them,' it said.
In the statement, Japan said the islands were 'undoubtedly Japanese territory either in history or by international law. It is also under effective Japanese administration'.
It added: 'The Japanese government believes it should not affect Japan's relations with its neighbours as well as the stability of the region.'
The action committee expected the boat, which left Yuhuan county in Zhejiang province on Sunday morning, to reach the mainland coast at 9am today.
This latest attempt by the committee to land on the disputed islands to enforce Chinese sovereignty over the islets comes exactly five years after the last protest journey there.
During that protest, the Hong Kong-chartered Diao Yu Tai was sunk by the Japanese coastguard.
Fundraising efforts to buy a new boat in 1999 for another voyage failed.
'We have always wanted to return to Diaoyu since our last protest. We never give up trying,' said Mr Wong. 'In the past five years, we have been working on plenty of initiatives and we managed to make contact with many mainland activists who are very keen on going to the islands,' said Mr Wong.
He said mainland activists paid for the hiring of the vessel.