The online news portal of TV5
SENKAKU ISLANDS, Japan - Nationalists raised Japanese flags on an island at the heart of a corrosive territorial row on Sunday, sparking street protests in China and an angry reaction from Beijing.
Around a dozen members of the right-wing group Gambare Nippon (Hang In There Japan) swam ashore, an AFP journalist witnessed, from a 20-boat flotilla carrying activists and lawmakers.
The landing comes just days after Tokyo deported pro-Beijing protesters who had landed on the island, part of a chain administered by Japan but claimed by China, which said Sunday's action was illegal.
Local Tokyo politician Eiji Kosaka, one of the men who made it to the island in the East China Sea, said the group had planted Japanese flags on a hillside and on the shore.
"This is undoubtedly Japanese territory," he told an AFP reporter aboard the flotilla on his return. "On the mountain we found (the ruins of) Japanese-style houses that had places for drying fish.
"It is very sad that the Japanese government is doing nothing with these islands," he said, adding the nationalists' expedition had been "a great success".
The 150 people who had sailed to the islands, including eight parliamentarians, were back on the boats and were heading back to far southwestern Ishigaki. They had spent around five hours at the islands.
Japanese coastguard ships had urged the activists not to land, with officers boarding some of the vessels to question people. No arrests were made.
China fiercely claims the archipelago, which it calls Diaoyu, but it is controlled by Japan, which calls it Senkaku.
The foreign ministry in Beijing reacted with vehemence.
"Japanese right wingers illegally violated China's territorial sovereignty," a statement quoted ministry spokesman Qin Gang as saying.
"The foreign ministry has already lodged solemn representations and expressed strong protest to the Japanese embassy in China and urged Japan to stop actions which harm China's territorial sovereignty."
Taiwan, which also has claims, summoned Japan's representative to protest against the "provocative" act.
Anti-Japan protests erupted in at least eight Chinese cities, with Japanese media reporting Japanese shops and cars had been damaged.
In the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, protesters waved Chinese flags and shouted slogans as they marched on major streets, with the numbers swelling to about 1,000, the official Xinhua news agency said.
One participant said protesters were marching towards the train station on the border with Hong Kong in a demonstration strung out over up to eight kilometres (five miles).
More than 100 people gathered near the complex housing the Japanese consulate in the southern city of Guangzhou, chanting "Japan get out of the Diaoyu Islands", Xinhua said.
Before the voyage, Kenichi Kojima, a local politician from Kanagawa, near Tokyo, told AFP the trip was about who owned the archipelago, whose seabed is believed to harbour rich mineral resources.
"I want to show the international community that these islands are ours. It is Japan's future at stake," he said.
Organizers, who had been refused permission by Tokyo to go ashore, said ahead of their departure that they would be holding a ceremony aboard boats to remember some of those who died in World War II.
In Tokyo, Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, the senior vice foreign minister, said established practice was for only government officials to land there.
But he added: "In principle, it is alright for Japanese people to visit Japanese territory."
The dispute over the islands is one of the major stumbling blocks -- along with issues related to Japan's military occupation of parts of China during World War II -- to smooth relations between Asia's two giant economies.
Tensions spiked after Japan on Friday deported 14 pro-China activists who sailed to the islands from Hong Kong in a similar trip.
Some managed to land on Uotsurijima, the largest island, becoming the first non-Japanese to set foot on any part of the archipelago since 2004.
Emotions were also running high around the August 15 anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender, with Beijing and Seoul angry about a visit to a Tokyo war shine on Wednesday by two Japanese cabinet members.