Japan’s coast guard plucked a stranded Chinese balloonist out of the sea near the disputed Senkaku Islands on New Year’s day after the man tried and failed to land on one of the islands.
The man’s political affiliation and precise motive were unclear, but the coast guard said yesterday that he told his rescuers he had been trying to reach one of the Japanese-administered islands, which are known as the Diaoyu in China. He was identified as Xu Shuaijun, a 35-year-old cook from Hebei province.
Chinese activists have previously landed or attempted to land ships on the uninhabited islands, which are at the centre of a bitter territorial dispute.
The confrontation has been fraught since late 2012, with Chinese patrol ships regularly entering waters near the islands and both sides scrambling fighter jets, though so far there has been no violence.
The balloon incident appeared, if anything, to mark a moment of co-operation between the adversaries in the dispute.
Authorities in Taiwan, which also claims the islands, alerted the Japanese coast guard that a hot-air balloon they had been tracking by radar had gone missing over the East China Sea.
A coast guard helicopter soon spotted the colourful balloon in the water about 20km from one of the islands, and a ship was dispatched to pick up Mr Xu, who was not seriously injured.
After ascertaining Mr Xu’s nationality, the coast guard handed him to a nearby Chinese ship.
According to Japanese media reports, the Chinese captain expressed gratitude to the coast guard for rescuing a Chinese citizen.
Although military forces have not clashed directly in the territorial dispute, past incidents involving private citizens have helped to inflame it. China reacted angrily when Japan arrested a fishing boat captain in 2010 after his ship struck a Japanese coast guard patrol boat near the islands.
A group of Hong Kong-based Chinese nationalists in 2012 landed on one of the islands, igniting another diplomatic incident between the countries.
Japanese nationalists have pointedly sailed ships near the islands, on which they are forbidden to land by Japanese authorities.
A week before the balloon incident, relations between Japan and China sank further when Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni war shrine, a site reviled by many in China and Korea as a symbol of Japanese imperialism.
The act broke an informal seven-year freeze on visits to Yasukuni by Japanese premiers.
气球事件发生一周前，日中关系进一步下滑，原因是日本首相安倍晋三(Shinzo Abe)参拜了靖国神社(Yasukuni war shrine)，这个供奉战争死难者亡灵的地方被中国和韩国的许多人视为日本军国主义的一个符号。