The Chinese authorities would be speaking out on anything that happens to their (Hong Kong) citizens on “Chinese territory,” wouldn’t they? The Hong Long Government, though, subsequently demanded the activists’ release and dispatched immigration officials to Japan to support them. I think that they’re playing into Japanese hands. Or the Chinese Government wants to play down the incident. Either way, if the Japanese Government keeps putting the latter front and center of its response going forward, my argument holds. Anyway:
First, there seems to be significant criticism in Japan over the fact that the authorities let the Hong Kong activists land on the Islands. I don’t understand this; are the critics suggesting that the authorities should have exercised deadly force if need be rather than let the activists land, then arrest them for illegal entry? After all, they were posing no known physical threat to any persons or assets under Japanese jurisdiction. If this had been a helicopter and not a boat, would these critics have insisted that the Coast Guard shoot it down?
Second, the usual procedure in Japan for illegal entry is catch-and-release. These are obviously not your usual stowaways, but they do not appear to have used force to make their entry or resist arrest. This would preclude the charge of “Obstructing or Compelling Performance of Public Duty” as an “an act of assault or intimidation against a public officer in the performance of public duty” under Article 95 of the Japanese Criminal Code. And the Hong Kong vessel cannot be retained for potential forfeiture unless it has been used in a alleged crime that the authorities intend to indict the Hong Kong for.
Third—and this is the part of the process of the process that is of greatest immediate interest—will the Noda administration make the preceding two points crystal-clear to the Japanese public and convince it that this is a routine exercise of Japanese policing powers and that it is treating these Hong Kong Activists like any other illegal alien under Japanese jurisdiction? From what I’ve seen over the years, the Japanese powers-that-be have generally done poorly in proactively framing the story so that the narrative would accrue to their advantage; I see no specific reason to believe that it would be otherwise on this occasion.
Fourth, finally, and most important in the long run to the overall narrative, the Japanese Coast Guard (on sea) and the Okinawa Prefectural Police (on land) have confirmed in the eyes of the world that, whatever the politic calculations that determine the Noda administration’s actions, it is the Japanese Government that exercises the powers of sovereignty over the Islands and does so in a rational manner befitting a state observant of universal human rights and the rule of law. And that should count for something. And expect the Japanese government to reinforce the means to do so in the FY 2013 budget.