Protester's death heats up island dispute

Nationalist groups have forced Japan, Taiwan and China to take a stand on territory. Richard Lloyd Parry reports

Tokyo - It sounds more like something out of Trivial Pursuit than a matter of life or death: are the obscure rocks, 200 miles off the north-east of Taiwan, rightly called the Senkaku chain, the Diaoyu archipelago, or the Tiaoyutai islands?

Yesterday, the question became a deadly one, after a Hong Kong man died in the latest round of a dispute which is proving a grave embarrassment to the governments of Tokyo, Taipei and Peking.

The tragedy occurred yesterday afternoon when a cargo ship, the Kien Hwa No 2, arrived in the sea close to the islands following a four-day voyage from Hong Kong. As well as several dozen journalists, the vessel carried members of a group of Hong Kong Chinese with a mission to carry out. This was the demolition of a small beacon which had been erected two months earlier by a group of Japanese right-wingers. To the Hong Kong protesters, the islands are unquestionably the Diaoyus, and they belong to China - a claim made with equal vehemence by Japan (Senkakus) and Taiwan (Tiaoyutais).

To prove their point, and despite the presence of 20 patrol boats and helicopters of the Japanese coastguard, some of the protesters launched dinghies from which they jumped into the rough sea. By 2pm, in spite of attempts at resuscitation by doctors, the expedition's leader, David Chan, was dead.

A consular officer from the British embassy in Tokyo is today making the 1,200-mile journey to a hospital in Japan's southern Okinawa prefecture to visit another member of Mr Chan's party who narrowly escaped death; the protesters' ship was last night sailing away from the Tiaoyutai-Senkaku- Diaoyus. But the tragedy will only fuel a struggle that has been smouldering for 25 years and which the governments in the region hoped to forget.

Both Tokyo and Peking find themselves in the unaccustomed position of being bounced into taking a stand on the islands by nationalists within and outside their own countries. Despite a bitter wartime history, and occasional explosions of vituperative rhetoric from Peking, the two sides had agreed to shelve the question.

But the issue was forced in July by the construction of the small lighthouse by the Japan Youth Federation, an unsavoury right-wing group which has links with organised crime.

The act provoked immediate protests from Taiwan and China, which has hinted darkly of "connivance and protection from certain Japanese quarters". Tokyo maintains, rather unconvincingly, that there is nothing that it can do: the islands are privately owned and no offence has been committed under Japanese law.

But while the diplomatic exchanges continued, the dispute stirred up a rare burst of pan- Chinese outrage. In Taipei and Hong Kong, there have been furious demonstrations against the lighthouse. This is alarming enough in Tokyo, but it is also causing anxiety in China. Independent nationalist movements of whatever type are alarming to Peking, especially when they issue from Taiwan which still claims it is the "true" China.

On Wednesday, the Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers met in New York for an inconclusive meeting which appeared to have calmed the situation. The question is whether this calm can survive the death of Mr Chan.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - Commercial Training

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The business development manage...

The Richmond Fellowship Scotland: Executive Director

£66,192 per annum including car allowance of £5,700): The Richmond Fellowship ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Recruitment Genius: Office Junior

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent