HONG KONG, Aug. 23 (UPI) -- Chinese activists who had landed on Japan-controlled islands in the East China Sea to assert their country's sovereignty returned to Hong Kong to a big welcome.
China's official media gave wide coverage to their arrival on a fishing boat after they had been deported by Japan, following last week's incident that escalated the territorial dispute between the two countries over the islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
When the seven activists arrived in Hong Kong, "a crowd of waiting supporters erupted in cheering," China Daily reported. The seven were part of a group of 14 activists who landed on one of the islands, leading to their arrest and subsequent deportation by Japanese authorities as diplomatic tensions mounted.
The other seven had flown back earlier to Hong Kong.
The captain of the ship that carried the activists to the islands said the trip was a victory of strategy and tactics, China Daily reported.
Two days after Japan deported the Chinese activist, a group of 10 Japanese similarly landed on the islands.
Following the incidents, there were widespread protests in Chinese cities by demonstrators in support of their country's claim on the islands, raising bilateral tensions further.
Separately, China Daily said Cai Yingting, deputy chief of the general staff of Chinese army, has gone on an unannounced official visit to the United States, adding the trip "is widely seen as being linked with territorial tensions in Northeast Asia ... ." The report said the two sides would discuss the island issue in addition to the South China Sea issue.
The China Daily noted the 37-day U.S.-Japan military Pacific Ocean drill that began Tuesday and quoted observers as saying the drill "showed Washington's military support for its ally Tokyo over the islands."
The report quoted Peng Guangqian, a military analyst in Beijing, as saying without the U.S. strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, Japan "would not have created so much friction over the islands."
The United States has said Japan and China need to resolve the island issue through consultation and not through provocation.
A Voice of America report quoted experts as saying the islands dispute stems from both the countries reacting to new domestic challenges and nationalist movements.
Tokyo University Professor Kiichi Fujiwara said Japanese nationalists became upset when the Democratic Party of Japan, which came to power in 2009, advocated a "cozy" relationship with China. He said the nationalists also are concerned about what they see as aggressive Chinese actions in other disputed waters such as in the South China Sea.
The New York Times said while there is not much support among the Japanese for a confrontation with China, analysts said more Japanese now feel the need to stand up to the Communist giant even as the economies of Japan and the United States weaken.
"We are all gearing up for an international tug of war in this region," security expert Narushige Michishita at Tokyo's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies told The Times. "Whenever the distribution of power changes in a dramatic way, people start to redraw lines."
While the South China Sea issue currently occupies the attention of the world, other experts told the Times Japan's disputes over the islands with its East Asian neighbors could become more explosive, with implications for the United States, since Washington is treaty-bound to defend Japan in the event of an armed conflict.