Japan said yesterday that China has postponed a senior official’s visit to Tokyo in an escalating diplomatic battle over the arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain after a ship collision near islands claimed by both countries.
The dispute has touched off a war of words between the world’s second and third-largest economies and prompted anti-Japanese activists in China and Taiwan — which also claims the islands — to sail to the area in protest missions.
Li Jianguo (李建國), vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, was scheduled to visit Japan for a five-day trip starting today at the invitation of the Japanese lower house of parliament.
However, Beijing told Tokyo on Monday it wanted to delay Li’s visit for “various reasons,” said Shu Kajita, an official at Japan’s lower house of parliament. Kajita said Chinese officials did not elaborate.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku called China’s move “very regrettable.”
“In times like these, lawmakers from both countries should be able to talk frankly,” Sengoku told reporters.
In Beijing, the government accused Japan of provoking the situation and repeated its demand Tokyo hand over the Chinese captain, who was arrested after his ship and two Japanese patrol boats collided nearly a week ago near a set of disputed East China Sea islands.
“It is imperative that Japan immediately cease the so-called legal procedures and allow the captain to safely return,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) said at a regular news conference yesterday.
Japan sought to ease tensions on Monday by freeing 14 crew members of the Chinese trawler, but a Japanese court has granted prosecutors permission to keep Zhan Qixiong (詹其雄) in custody until next Sunday to decide whether to formally indict him on charges of obstructing public duties.
Beijing sees the case against the captain as a provocation against its claim of sovereignty over the disputed islands, called Diaoyutai (釣魚台) in Chinese and the Senkakus in Japanese. Located about 190km east of Taiwan, the islands are controlled by Japan, but also claimed by Taiwan and China.
The islets are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and are regularly occupied by activists from the countries involved.