China’s most senior foreign policy official increased pressure on Japan yesterday by summoning its ambassador to again demand the immediate release of Chinese fishermen and their boat detained near disputed islands.
The Chinese vessel collided with Japanese patrol boats after ignoring warnings to leave the area and refusing to stop for an inspection last Tuesday, Japan’s coast guard said.
China has said the confrontation could damage its relations with Japan.
State Councilor Dai Bingguo (戴秉國) summoned Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa in the early hours of yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
It was the fourth time the ambassador had been called in over the incident and it was highly unusual for an official of Dai’s rank to intercede.
Beijing is worried about losing face in front of the Chinese public if it appears unable to protect the country’s sovereignty, and a possible nationalistic backlash against the government. The spat has stirred passions in China, with newspapers and nationalists calling for a tough stand against any threats to China’s territorial claims.
The incident happened off Japan’s Kuba island, just north of the islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyutai (釣魚台) in Chinese. The islands are controlled by Japan but are also claimed by China and Taiwan.
Dai urged Japan to find a “wise political resolution” and release the crew and boat immediately, the statement said.
Meanwhile, Japanese coast guard officials took the Chinese fishing boat and its crew out to sea off Okinawa yesterday to test the vessel’s capabilities.
Officials also found fish on the ship and were investigating whether they were caught illegally in waters that Japan considers its territory, public broadcaster NHK said.
The Chinese ministry said it firmly opposed any form of investigation by Japanese authorities into the fishing boat.
“Japan’s so-called gathering of evidence is illegal, invalid and futile,” spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) said in a statement. “China urges Japan to stop actions that escalate the situation and immediately and unconditionally release the crew and ship, this is the only way to solve the problem.”
In related news, a group of about 20 Chinese activists planned to sail yesterday from Xiamen to waters near the Diaoyutai Islands to unfurl banners proclaiming Chinese sovereignty over the territory and protest “Japanese aggression.” One of the organizers said they expect to arrive tomorrow.
A Japanese court has allowed prosecutors to keep the boat captain in custody until next Monday before deciding whether to press charges. Tokyo suspects the captain, 41-year-old Zhan Qixiong (詹其雄), deliberately rammed the two Japanese vessels and arrested him on suspicion of obstructing officers on duty. The charge carries a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment.
Japanese authorities say the other 14 crew members are free to return home if China sends a vessel to pick them up.
In other developments, Japan has filed a complaint with China after Beijing called off planned talks on oil and gas fields in the East China Sea, an official said yesterday.
China called off the talks late on Friday in protest over the fishing boat seizure. The talks had been scheduled for later this month.
The postponed talks were intended to follow on from discussions held in Tokyo in July on plans to jointly exploit oil and gas fields in the areas.
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