China said yesterday a row over Japan’s detention of a Chinese trawler captain had already badly damaged ties and made it “inappropriate” for the countries’ premiers to meet this week at the UN.
Beijing had already suspended high-level exchanges and promised tough counter-measures after a Japanese court extended the detention of Zhan Qixiong (詹其雄), 41, whose boat collided with two Japanese coast guard ships this month near disputed islands.
China has repeatedly demanded the captain’s release.
“This matter has already seriously damaged China-Japan relations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) told a regular news briefing in Beijing. “We hope that Japan will see the situation clearly and release the boat captain as soon as possible without conditions.”
It was inappropriate, Jiang said, for Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) to meet Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in New York.
“The key to solving this problem is in Japan’s hands,” she said.
Meanwhile, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku called for both sides to refrain from inflaming nationalism in the row over the islands, which are called Diaoyutai (釣魚台) in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese.
“What is most important is that government officials in Japan, China and other countries try not to fuel narrow-minded, extreme nationalism,” Sengoku told a news conference.
“For the peace and development of East Asia and the Asia-Pacific, we want to use all available means of communication to ask that this be resolved without the situation escalating,” Sengoku said.
Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda also called for a solution that would leave business ties unaffected between Asia’s biggest economies.
“We should respond cool-headedly so as to prevent it from affecting [our economic activity],” he told reporters.
Despite increasingly heated rhetoric, experts predicted the dispute to have little impact on the trade ties binding Asia’s two biggest economies. Two-way trade totaled ¥21.7 trillion (US$253.7 billion) last year.
Japan accuses Zhan of ramming a patrol ship and obstructing officers. Tokyo has said his case will be dealt with appropriately according to its laws. Prosecutors have until Sept. 29 to decide whether to bring charges.
Japan’s transport minister, who oversees tourism, said there were no plans for him to meet the deputy chief of China’s tourism authority at a regional gathering in Japan this week, even amid concern in Japan that the row would lead to a decline in Chinese visitors.
Japan’s National Tourism Organization, however, said it had made no change to its projection for the number of visitors from China to reach a record 1.5 million this year.
Akio Takahara, an expert on China-Japan ties at the University of Tokyo, expected the economic impact to be limited.
“Unlike in 2005, I do not think that anti-Japanese sentiment is widespread. In the last five years, understanding towards Japan has deepened [in China],” he said.
Wen and Kan are due to meet separately with US President Barack Obama, whose government has called on China and Japan to resolve the issue through dialogue.
US Vice President Joe Biden on Monday sent a warm message to Japan, stressing that Washington’s ties with Tokyo were at the center of US foreign policy in Asia.
“There is an emerging relationship that we have to get right between the United States and China ... frankly, I don’t know how that relationship can be made right other than going through Tokyo,” Biden said.