by Sun Xiaozheng， Jon Day
TOKYO, Aug. 17 (Xinhua) -- Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Friday approved the release of 14 Chinese activists who were arrested and detained by Japanese law enforcement officials for landing on the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China sea.
Seven of the 14 who were released Friday were taken to Naha Airport of Okinawa, and will be flown back to China, local media reports quoted both government and immigration officials as saying.
Another seven will be flown to Ishigaki Island where their vessel was detained, and return by their vessel, a spokesman from the Chinese embassy in Tokyo told Xinhua.
The activists were initially arrested on suspicion of illegal entry to Japan on Wednesday and held for violating Japan's immigration control law and refugee recognition act, according to official law enforcement and government official's statements made here.
Following the arrests, all of the activists were transferred to immigration officials' custody.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda denounced the incident by the Chinese activists claiming it was "extremely regrettable" and had previously said that the captain of the fishing vessel carrying the activists ignoring the Japanese Coast Guard's orders to alter his course and sail out of Japanese waters, was a "deplorable act. "
The latest incident in the ongoing territorial dispute between Tokyo and Beijing has not led to either side softening its stance on the issue and while the Japanese government, according to sources close to the matter, were keen to deal with the matter as swiftly as possible, its view that the islands it calls the Senkakus are indisputable Japanese sovereign territory remain steadfast.
Fujimura, Japan's top government spokesperson, in a recent statement told local journalists that, "Japan owned the Senkaku Islands by law and had exercised ownership for over a century. He asserted that Japan's sovereignty should not be questioned."
However, China's Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying has reiterated China's sovereignty over the Diaoyu and its affiliated islets and urged Japan to "immediately and unconditionally" release its nationals, warning that any of Japan's unilateral moves against Chinese nationals are both "illegal and invalid," with China's overall stance regarding sovereignty over the islands remaining unwavering.
Both Tokyo and Beijing, however, were united in the desire for the matter to be dealt with swiftly and according to the Asahi Shimbun news paper, a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official said efforts were made this time by Japan for a quick resolution.
"The Noda administration officials no doubt took account of what happened when Noda's predecessor, Naoto Kan, tried to handle the collision between the Chinese trawler and the Japan Coast Guard ships (in 2010)," the Asahi Shimbun said Friday in an editorial on the matter.
"The trawler captain was arrested on suspicion of interfering in the performance of public duties. Beijing was incensed by the move and took retaliatory measures, such as postponing meetings between Cabinet-level officials, banning the export of rare earth metals to Japan, and even detaining Japanese employees of a construction company who were inspecting a site in China. In the end, the Kan administration released the trawler captain."
The editorial went on to say that opposition parties lambasted Kan for what was deemed as anemic diplomacy and suggested that it was this sentiment that finally led to his downfall as Japan's leader.
Of the latest incident, it seems apparent and is being widely reported in the local press here that Noda wished to avoid tensions escalating with China by detaining the activists longer than necessary.
Beijing, for its part, questioned the legality of the activists ' arrests from the get-go and urged Tokyo to release them unharmed and without delay.
"Given its dismal public support ratings, due to the recent legislation to double the consumption tax rate to 10 percent in October 2015 and the government's decision to restart reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, the Noda Cabinet was keen to put the incident behind it," the Asahi Shimbun said.
"If we repeated the same mistake as Kan in 2010, our administration would be turned upside down," the popular daily quoted a Noda aide as saying, suggesting that Japan deciding to swiftly "deport", rather than prosecute, the 14 activists was a move aimed at trying to defuse rising tensions with its neighbor.
While both sides remain at loggerheads over sovereignty of the uninhabited islands that are surrounded by rich fishing waters and close to potentially rich gas reserves, Asian affairs experts have noted that the current leadership in Japan has flip-flopped over its election pledge to forge closer ties with its East Asian neighbors, in the interests of peace and prosperity in the region.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) also flip-flopped over its tax hike pledge made prior to the party swinging into power in 2009.
The DPJ reneging on such pledges has caused the party to splinter and led to a number of high profile politicians, including kingmaker Ichiro Ozawa, bolting from the DPJ to form their own parties to stand against Noda.
Sabre rattling by so-called populist government officials in Japan, such as the controversial remarks made by Tokyo mayor Shintaro Ishihara, a staunch nationalist, about using tax payers money to "purchase" the disputed islands, has also added fuel to the bilateral fire.
Ishihara in April unveiled plans to buy three of the five contested islets from a businessman residing in Saitama prefecture who according to Tokyo holds the deeds to them. Ishihara said funds from the metropolitan government's budget would be used to make the purchases.
In addition, Noda himself has also indicated plans to nationalize the islands in another moved some observers have described as "clumsy" -- especially at a time when Japan is central to potentially bellicose territorial disputes with three other countries and the rise of Japan's new nationalist right, ahead of elections that will almost certainly see Noda and the DPJ ousted, will likely only fan the flames conflict.