The Chinese trawler collided with Japanese vessels in disputed waters in East China Sea last week [AFP]

Japan has released the 14 crew members of a Chinese fishing trawler which collided with two Japanese coastguard vessels in disputed waters in East China Sea last week.

Zhan Qixiong, the 41-year old captain of the fishing trawler, is still in detention in Japan as the Tokyo suspects he deliberately caused the collision.

He was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of obstructing officers on duty, a charge that carries up to three years' prison. A court has since approved his continued detention.

The incident has sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries. China has called off planned talks over oil and gas fields in a contested area of the East China Sea.

China had summoned Japan's ambassador four times in protest against the detentions, and warned Tokyo on Sunday against making "misjudgements" in a case which has set back efforts to ease decades of distrust.

Relations between Beijing and Tokyo have been strained by mutual distrust and Chinese bitterness over Japan's occupation of much of China before and during the second world war war.

Following big public protests in China against Japan and bitter diplomatic exchanges in 2005 and 2006, both sides have sought to improve ties. But they have stubborn disagreements over their sea rights, especially over a group of islets in the East China Sea, called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

China insists the islands have been Chinese territory since ancient times.

Source: Agencies