Revisiting the Diaoyu Islands protest for real

Lam Sair-ping - Senior Reporter, Apple Daily

[Oct 2012 - The Journalist] The forced landing of the Kai Fung II on the Diaoyu Islands roused the Hong Kong media to send reporters to Okinawa and Ishigaki in Japan where they tried to interview the ship's crew which had been taken into custody. It was the first time in 16 years this had happened. 

Kai Fung II (Ming Pao Photo)
Over this period I have interviewed campaigners for protecting the Diaoyu Islands many times. Not once have I followed the ship to the islands. My colleagues have asked me if this is not cause for regret. In some ways it is.

Having covered and accompanied the expedition of protecting the Diaoyu Islands, I have experienced the throat-tightening thrills of terrifying waves and tense stand-offs against Japanese warships. Those were the days when I drafted stories in the endless expanse the sea to be recorded by a colleague back in the office, hiding under a table, when a weak radio wave was available at a particular time. All the people aboard would gather around and listen to my story, and some of them would try to influence. But Albert Ho reminded them not to interfere with the freedom of the press.

Some 16 years ago the campaign for the Diaoyu Islands took to sailing to the islands. Once interest ebbed news about the campaign were ignored by the media. Until recently, with contention between China and Japan heaving again, all activities were confined to China while in Taiwan activists vowed to land on the islands. Alas, only the Kai Fung II set out to make a “landing”, resulting in the arrest of the crew and the confiscation of the ship by Japan. The focus immediately shifted to this development.

Members of Action Committee to Defend Diaoyu Island were arrested by Jpanese authority. They were sent to Naha, Okinawa, under excort. (Ming Pao Photo)
Law Hum-chau, veteran of past Diaoyu Islands campaigns, while on the way home together with the boat, admitted tearfully that they had not prepared well for the expedition. He also apologised to the crew for not being truthful about the preparations. But he should not be blamed. It was simply because the vessel had been battered by the police for alleged piracy or smuggling. From that, we can see the campaign did not waste money on an uncertain battle.

It was also practical to make the local media bid for places on the vessel. According to experience, it is a waste of manpower allowing reporters on board. Only after Kai Fung’s success in getting to the islands did the media hurry to send reporters to Okinawa to follow the story closely.

Kai Fung II’s breakthrough of the Hong Kong police blockade was only covered on-the-spot by reporters from Phoenix Satellite Television. That night journalists from Hong Kong rushed to Taipei. They prepared safety jackets and planned to board Kai Fung II. I was ordered to “welcome” the ship the next day, and to grab the chance to go with the campaign. However, as Kai Fung II did not replace its flag of China with that of Taiwan, the vessel was barred from anchoring at the pier by Taiwan’s Maritime Department, and I lost the chance to get on board.

In the past, it was only a matter of money to have journalists on Taiwan’s fishing boats and to follow the campaign. But as the Taiwan authorities punished those fishermen severely, it has become difficult for foreign journalists to go to sea. With the news about the landing of Kai Fung II and the probable arrest of its crew of 14, I was sent from Taiwan to Okinawa to report on developments.

Japan Coast Guard station in Ishigakihima. (Provided by Lam Sair-ping)
My colleague paraphrased my article skillfully. It began like this “Sleepless, I recalled the pictures of joining the Diaoyu rally 5 times over 15 years.” In fact I had not dared to sleep that night rather than being sleepless. The following tasks were awaiting: buying the earliest flight ticket to Okinawa, writing up the “outdated” stories of Diaoyu rally, keeping track of the latest developments. Luckily, during my private trip to Okinawa previously, I have already marked down the locations of Japan's coast guard and police headquarters where the protesters might be detained.

The late Chan Yuk-cheung and Lew Mon-hung formed the "World Chinese Alliance in Defense of the Diaoyu Islands". They had rented a cargo ship and more than 40 journalists boarded the ship and set sail before the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu islands. Chan Yuk-cheung jumped into the sea to claim the sovereignty of China over the islands but he drowned in doing so.

Now, 16 years later, Diaoyu Islands are still in the hands of the Japanese. It is an utter irony that Fong Yu-yuen, who jumped into the sea with Chan Yuk-cheung in 1996, was saved by the Japanese who sent him by helicopter to a hospital on Ishigakijima. Now, many reporters from Hong Kong and the Mainland went to Okinawa and Ishigakijima to report the detention of the campaigners.

Apple Daily Senior Reporter Lam Sair-ping (left) and photographer Wong Tsz-chun covered Daioyu Island dispute in Japan (Photograph provided by Lam Sair-ping)
A reporter from Phoenix TV was detained during the landing of Kai Fung II. I heard that before Japanese Police boarded Kai Fung II, he had hidden the highlights of the landing video. It was exactly the same manoeuvre we used against media censorship in the Mainland. In fact the situations in China and Japan are not the same. In Japan, local and foreign journalists are treated in the same way. We had to wait outside the cordon of the police headquarters and were given Japanese press statements with English explanation.

Hong Kong journalists were dependent on their Japanese counterparts for assistance on the latest developments. We had to use body language or limited Chinese to communicate, and pay attention to their moves. On Ishigakijima, once we showed Japanese news report of Kai Fung II, cab drivers would drive us straight to the pier where the ship was berthed.

There are hundreds of members of the campaign over the past 16 years who have boarded the ship to protect the Diaoyu Islands or have written books on this issue. but at least three quarters of them have since vanished from the scene.