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TOKYO/BEIJING (Reuters) - Japan has arrested the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that collided with two Japanese coast guard boats near disputed islets in the East China Sea, causing anger in Beijing and reigniting territorial tensions.
China's Foreign Ministry lodged a "strong protest" against the captain's arrest on Wednesday, with Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue summoning Japan's ambassador for the second time in two days, Xinhua news agency said.
Hu "demanded that the Japanese side immediately release the ship and crew members on board and guarantee their safety," Xinhua reported.
Tokyo has also lodged protests over the incident but Japan's top government spokesman called for calm while the prime minister said the matter would be dealt with fairly.
"We will deal with this in a fair manner in line with Japanese laws," Prime Minister Naoto Kan told reporters.
A group of about 30 people carrying Chinese flags held a brief demonstration outside Japan's embassy in Beijing, demanding Japan "get out" of the islands, but they soon dispersed.
China's Global Times, a popular tabloid run by the Communist Party, called in an editorial for both sides to act with extreme caution in handling the incident.
"Japan has perhaps lit a fire which could ultimately seriously damage relations and even force a showdown," it wrote.
Despite the ongoing spat over the islands and mutual mistrust about each others' military intentions, the two countries' ever-deepening economic ties mean their governments are keen to keep relations on an even keel.
China has been Japan's biggest trading partner since 2009. Bilateral trade reached 12.6 trillion yen ($150.4 billion) in value in the first half of this year, an on-year jump of 34.5 percent, according to Japanese statistics.
The incident took place near a group of East China Sea islets -- called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China -- over which Tokyo and Beijing as well as Taiwan claim sovereignty.
No one, including 14 Chinese crew on the fishing boat, was injured, a spokesman at Japan's coast guard said.
The captain of the Chinese boat has been transported to the southern Japanese island of Ishigaki for questioning, he added. It was not clear where the other crew members were being held.
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu reiterated that the Diaoyu islands belong to China, adding that China "reserved the right to take further action" over the fishing boat incident.
Tokyo has urged China to strengthen supervision of its fishing boats to avoid a recurrence of the incident.
Chan Liu-tak, the Hong Kong head of a committee to "defend" the islands, said they would try to hire a trawler in Taiwan this weekend to sail there, though the owners of previous vessels were fined heavily or stripped of their licenses.
($1 = 83.78 Yen)
Reporting by Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Mark Chisholm in Beijing, and James Pomfret in Hong Kong; Editing by Ken Wills and Sugita Katyal