China has demanded that Japan release 14 Chinese activists who tried to land on a disputed island chain. The arrests capped a day of tensions in which South Korea also urged Japan to atone for past wartime abuses.
The Japanese coastguard said it initially arrested five activists, who had sailed from Hong Kong, as they landed on the island. China's Xinhua news agency said Japan later detained nine more activists on their boat.
The unoccupied island chain - known as Diaoya in China, Senkaku in Japan and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan - is situated near rich fishing waters and large maritime oil reserves in the East China Sea.
Chinamakes "solemn representations"
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said China's Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying had lodged "solemn representations" when meeting Japan's ambassador to Beijing.
Fu had demanded that "Japan ensure the safety of the 14 Chinese nationals and immediately and unconditionally release them," said the ministry.
In Tokyo, Japan's foreign ministry said deputy foreign minister, Kenichiro Sasae, had called in China's ambassador Cheng Yonghua to "strongly protest" over the activists' maneuvers.
The Japanese coastguard said all those arrested had been sent to Okinawa for investigation on suspicion of illegally entering Japan via Uotsurijima, the Japanese name for one island in the chain.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told reporters he would "deal with the incident strictly in line with the law."
Activists asserted territorial claim
A spokesman for the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands said its activists had wanted to assert China's territorial claim over the archipelago. Japanese officials had challenged them.
"They were showing warning placards and talking through loud speakers in Mandarin to warn us off, but we just kept going," said David Ko, spokesperson for the activist group told Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK on Wednesday.
Shrine visit prompts protests
China and South Korea, meanwhile issued protests as two members of Noda's cabinet paid homage to 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 14 leading war criminals, at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine.
Noda, who leads Japan's fractious center-left Democratic Party cabinet, had asked his cabinet members to stay away, but one minister, Jin Matsubara, told reporters he attended in his "personal capacity."
Speaking at an official ceremony to mark the end of war 67 years ago, Noda said "enormous damage and suffering" had been inflicted by Japan last century on other countries, especially in Asia.
Japan urged to fully atone
Beijing, referring to imperial Japan's pre-World War II occupation of parts of China, said the key issue was "whether Japan can really look in the mirror of history, heeding its lessons, holding hands with Asian people to face the future."
And, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak urged Japan to make amends for sexual slavery forced on Korean women during Japan's former colonization of Korean territory between 1910 and 1945.
"It was a breach of women's rights committed during wartime as well as a violation of universal human rights and historic justice. We urge the Japanese government to take responsible measures in this regard," Lee said.
Japan has said it considers the issue of wartime sex slaves closed after a 1965 agreement to normalize diplomatic relations.
On Tuesday, Lee said an expression of "deepest regret" by Japanese Emperor Akihito in 1990 had not sufficed.
Last Friday, Lee visited another disputed island, known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan. That visit further frayed ties between the two US allies who otherwise have close economic links.
ipj/rc (dpa, AP, Reuters, AFP)