China will be forced to send warships to the disputed Diaoyu Islands if Japan intercepts Hong Kong activists claiming Chinese sovereignty of the islands, an editorial in the Global Times said.
The paper, published under the auspices of the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, said it opposed Japan sending Self-Defence Forces against the eight activists. "If Japan does so on a whim, it will force China to send warships to the Diaoyu Islands' waters … boding ill for East Asian security," it said.
The activists, aboard a Hong Kong fishing boat, Kai Fung No2, are expected to approach the islands - called the Senkakus by Japan - at 11am today - the 67th anniversary of Japan's surrender to Allied powers in the second world war.
The activists - who have lost most of their food rations overboard - decided not to approach Keelung port in Taiwan for supplies last night.
They earlier called at Taichung port, but the local authorities only gave them water and urged them to leave for Keelung to shelter from a coming storm.
Chan Yue-nam, who planned the protest but remains in Hong Kong, said the decision not to restock in Keelung was made after Taiwanese authorities threatened to detain their vessel, which had not applied for a pass to enter the port.
He said the storm brewing in the Luzon Strait would have a limited impact on their voyage.
The activists are on board the ship with two reporters and four sailors.
"We will be the only ones to deal with the Japanese, thanks to the Taiwanese authorities, who did not allow their activists to join," said Chan. A Taiwanese vessel was to have sailed from the port of Kengfeng in the island's northeast yesterday but the trip was called off at the last minute due to "government pressure".
"The boat skipper told us at the last minute [that] he could not sail, shortly after we had placed water and other supplies aboard and [were] ready to set off," Hsieh Meng-lin, the leader of six Taiwanese activists, told the South China Morning Post.
"I hope [the Hong Kong activists] keep an eye on changing weather conditions and pay attention to safety while claiming our country's sovereignty," he said.
Taipei meanwhile renewed its claim to the Diaoyus. "President Ma Ying-jeou has made it clear that the government of the Republic of China [as Taiwan calls itself] will by no means make concessions … Not even a single inch," a presidential spokesman said.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said he hoped the activists would return home safely, but sidestepped questions on whether he supported the protest.
The activists succeeded in leaving the city on Sunday, despite a warning from Hong Kong police.