Beijing: Japan placed its coast guard on high alert as a group of Chinese activists from Hong Kong headed for the disputed islands by a ship to assert Chinese sovereignty.
The ship belonging to the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, referred to by Japan as Senkaku islets set sail from Hong Kong with 15 people on aboard, including 11 activists, Chinese state television CCTV reported.
Their goal is to assert China's sovereignty over the islands, it said adding that among the activists, one hails from Macao, one from the mainland and the rest from Hong Kong.
Chan Miu-tak, chairman of the Hong Kong activist group, said this voyage was a response to some 50 Japanese lawmakers' plans to land on the Diaoyu Islands on August 19.
The television quoted reports from Tokyo as saying that Japan has put its Coast Guard on heightened alert and has reinforced patrols in waters near the Diaoyu Islands in the wake of the Chinese activists' trip.
It said that the Japanese officials were surprised that the group of Chinese activists were allowed to leave Hong Kong unlike in the past when they were prevented from doing so.
It is not clear whether the activists' ship has backing of Chinese surveillance ships which often run into eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the Japanese vessels around the islands, which are currently under the administrative control of Tokyo.
A Chinese state-run Global Times report said that Hong Kong marine police intercepted the ship and boarded it for inspection while the ship was leaving last night.
"The activists locked up the command room and continued sailing, forcing the police to let them go", the report said.
The activists expect to meet their Taiwanese counterparts in the Taiwan Straits in two days, and then from there head to the Diaoyu Islands together.
"We plan to reach the islands on August 15, the memorial day of victory over Japan during World War II," Chan told the paper."
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has said towards the end of last month that the coast guard would not allow any foreign vessels to enter the waters of the uninhabited islands, which are believed to be rich with minerals, oil and gas.
L Yaodong, a researcher from the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told official media here that the Japanese government must understand that their recent actions surrounding the islands have triggered widespread discontent among the Chinese population, and Japan's claim over the islands could threaten peace in East Asia.
First Published: Monday, August 13, 2012, 20:06