Japan releases China fishing boat captain: report

TOKYO Fri Sep 24, 2010 6:28pm EDT

1 of 10. A Chinese fishing boat (blue), flanked by a Japan Coast Guard vessel, is moored at Ishigaki port on the southern Japanese island of Ishigaki September 8, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Kyodo

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan on Saturday released a Chinese trawler captain at the center of a fierce row with China that has threatened ties between Asia's two biggest economies, officials said.

The captain, Zhan Qixiong, flew out of Ishigaki airport in southern Japan aboard a chartered plane shortly afterward for home, Kyodo news agency said

A prosecutor from Naha city on Japan's southern Okinawa island said Friday that the decision to release the Chinese captain, whose trawler collided this month with two Japanese patrol boats in waters near islands both sides claim, took into account the importance of Sino-Japanese ties.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the decision to release Zhan was made by authorities after "considering the nature of this incident from all angles" and based on Japanese law.

"China and Japan are important neighbors with important responsibilities in the international community," he said in New York, where he attended the U.N. General Assembly.

"In order to further grow our mutually beneficial relationship based on strategic interests, I believe it is necessary for Japan and China to handle matters calmly," Kan told reporters.

The release follows the detention of four Japanese nationals on suspicion of violating Chinese law regarding the protection of military facilities, though Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku has denied a link between the two matters.

The dispute over the Chinese trawler has its roots in a long-standing disagreement over sovereignty in an area with potentially rich resources, and has also underscored the fragility of ties long plagued by disputes over wartime history and regional rivalry.

Both countries claim sovereignty over the uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, called the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan. They are also at odds over China's exploration for natural gas in the East China Sea.

Beijing is involved in territorial rows with southeast Asian nations in the South China Sea.

Kyodo quoted a Japanese national resources and energy agency official late Friday as saying it was highly possible that China had started drilling in a gas field in the disputed waters of the East China Sea. But the report also cited a foreign ministry official as saying there was no confirmation.

The United States welcomed Japan's decision to release the Chinese captain, saying it had defused a potentially dangerous situation.

"This was a Japanese decision to make and we're just hopeful that with the release of the ship captain, tensions will recede and the countries in the region will get back to normal business," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

There had been concern that a prolonged dispute could hurt ties between the world's second and third largest economies, now in the process of swapping places as China overtakes Japan in the No. 2 spot.

Japan's sluggish economy has become increasingly reliant on China's dynamism for growth. China became Japan's biggest trading partner last year and bilateral trade reached 12.6 trillion yen ($148 billion) in the January-June period, a jump of 34.5 percent over the same time last year, Japanese data shows.

Before the captain's release, China canceled diplomatic meetings and student visits.

There has also been concern that Beijing was holding back shipments of rare earth minerals vital for electronics and auto parts to put added pressure on Japan.

($1=85.15 Yen)

(Additional reporting by Yoko Nishikawa in Tokyo and Andrew Quinn and Paul Eckert in New York; Editing by Paul Simao)

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Comments (7)
dmriddle wrote:
China gives orders to the captain to create an incident with Japan in order to frighten the Japanese into Confucian submission. The Japanese, who don’t see China as the middle kingdom and big brother, refuse to kowtow to its belligerent behavior and attacks on Japanese sovereignty. What China did was actively attack a Japanese military vessel. The captain needs to be charged with attacking the country of Japan, while Japan needs to bring China before the UN Security Council for violence and intimidation against Japan and its property (Japanese patrol boat).

As China’s appetite for natural resources and other people’s territory grows Japan needs to invest in an offensive force. If Japan continues to rely only on it defense forces, than China will have no fear to continue to attack other counties without consequences.

Sep 23, 2010 12:04am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Hasn’t anyone got the picture yet? Either confront China Incs bully boy tactics and control of essential inputs to Western economies or become their subservient whipping boys.

Push the US and Japanese fleets into the disputed area and tell China to pull its head in or else because that is what China Inc are telling the rest of us – do what China Inc says or we will send in the military.

Call China Incs bluff by insisting critical inputs to Western economies are not produced in China and available only on the basis of being obedient to China Incs wishes. Tell China Inc by positioning the fleets resolution of geographic claims are not going to be based simply on what China Inc wants.

Sep 24, 2010 2:18am EDT  --  Report as abuse
GRRR wrote:
They should not have caved in; as China escalated their power, it showed Americans just how dangerous China is, by their willingness to use trade as a means to get whatever they wanted, as opposed to diplomacy. If Japan had held out for a month and allowed China to continue to use increasingly oppressive tactics, it could have served as a means for America to get involved and start a trade war with China and completely destroy the trade imbalance.

Sep 24, 2010 6:03am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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