Japan will return 14 activists who were illegally detained after landing on an island belonging to China, according to Chinese diplomats in Japan.
China on Thursday again urged Japan to immediately and unconditionally release the activists.
Cooling tensions over the Diaoyu Islands was the correct move for Tokyo, experts said, because Japan does not have the right to detain Chinese nationals on Chinese sovereign territory and acts of provocation will only harm Japan's interests.
All the 14 activists will be returned to Hong Kong no later than Friday, China Central Television quoted an unnamed Chinese diplomat as saying. The Japanese government has decided not to transfer the 14 Chinese activists to prosecutors, Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported. The activists landed on the islands on Wednesday after sailing from Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, during a phone call to his Japanese counterpart Kenichiro Sasae on Thursday, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Zhijun asked the Japanese authorities to ensure the personal safety, dignity and fundamental rights of the activists.
According to the Foreign Ministry, a working group from the Chinese embassy and consulates in Japan arrived in Naha, the capital of Okinawa, where the activists are being held.
They visited the activists and lodged representations with the Japanese.
Japan has behaved differently in similar cases involving the islands.
In 2004, the government of former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi returned activists directly back to China, thereby avoiding any escalation in tension.
However, in 2010, Japan proposed transferring a Chinese trawler captain to prosecutors after he was detained in waters near the Diaoyu Islands.
This triggered a sharp response from Beijing. Japan eventually released the captain.
"Tokyo has behaved rather moderately this time," said Zhou Yongsheng, an expert on Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University.
But it should be made clear "Japan is not entitled to arrest or repatriate Chinese nationals under the cover of its domestic law" as the Diaoyu Islands, and its waters, are an inherent part of Chinese territory, Zhou said.
It was clear that Tokyo would not let Wednesday's landing escalate into a fully-fledged diplomatic incident because of lessons learnt in 2010, Zhou said.
The price would have been high if Tokyo copied its 2010 behavior, Zhou said.
Japan has initiated a series of disputes centering on the islands since the beginning of this year, Li Wei, director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said.
Li emphasized that the Japanese government should reflect on the situation before taking any further measures.
Meanwhile, residents in Okinawa Prefecture and sections of the media in Japan were demanding a cool approach.
"It is of the utmost importance for us to fish in safe waters," Kameichi Uehara, 50, from the Yaeyama Fisheries Cooperative Association, told Asahi Shimbun.
An editorial in the Nikkei Shimbun warned that unpopular political leaders should not gamble with diplomatic relations to improve their image.
All of the 14 Chinese activists arrived on Thursday in Naha, China Central Television reported.
The Hong Kong SAR government and its representative office in Tokyo also sent officials to join the working group from the embassy and consulates to visit the activists and lodged representations with the Japanese.
Director-General of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Japanese Foreign Ministry Shinsuke Sugiyama canceled a visit to China on Thursday, Phoenix TV reported on Thursday morning.
Sugiyama planned to visit Beijing to discuss details on a Tokyo-Pyongyang meeting to be held on Aug 29 in Beijing, but he canceled the trip because of the landing, Phoenix TV said.
Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said the cancellation was in protest against the landing, according to Japanese media.