Japan-China row over ship seizure
Beijing says ties could be adversely affected by arrest of a trawler's captain near disputed East China Sea islands.
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2010 09:48 GMT
The captain of the Chinese trawler was accused of deliberately ramming Japanese coast guard ships [AFP]

China has given warning to Japan that ties between the two countries could be adversely affected by the seizure of a Chinese trawler which collided with two Japanese coast guard boats.

Zhan Qixiong, the captain of the boat, was transferred to prosecutors for questioning on Thursday, a day after Japan's coast guard arrested him near a group of East China Sea islets controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Japanese authorities suspect the captain deliberately rammed the coast guard vessels and he was arrested on suspicion of obstructing officers on duty, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment.

No one was injured in the incident and the two Japanese vessels sustained only minor damage.

"The Japanese side applying domestic law to the Chinese fishing boat operating in this area is absurd, illegal and invalid, and China will never accept it," Jiang Yu, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, said.

"If improperly handled, [the incident] could have a serious impact on the larger interests of China-Japan relations."

Jiang called for the unconditional release of the crew and the boat and said a "law-enforcement" ship had been sent to the area to "protect the safety" of Chinese fishermen in the area.

Crew questioned

A Japanese coast guard spokeswoman said investigators had started inspecting the trawler and would soon start questioning the 14 fishermen on the boat, which is docked off Ishigaki island in Okinawa prefecture.

The collisions occurred after a Japanese patrol ship ordered the fishing trawler to cease operations near the rocky islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

In the ensuing confrontation the Chinese boat's bow hit the ship's stern before it sailed off. About 40 minutes later it collided with another Japanese patrol boat.

China has twice summoned Japan's ambassador to demand the release of the skipper.

The captain could be released in a couple of days if he acknowledges the allegation of obstructing public duties resulting in the collision and pays a fine, Masahiro Ichijo, the Japan coast guard spokesman, said. If not, it is likely that he would have to stand trial.

China's official media said there could be setbacks to diplomatic relations if Japan did not release Zhan.

Al Jazeera's Melissa Chan, reporting from Beijing, said: "It's unclear what the Chinese would actually do beyond a threat. But it is important to point out that the Chinese have been unhappy with reports that the Americans and the Japanese intend to hold military exercises in this region later this year.

"When it comes to China, there's a lot of national pride. You can look at this as a case of China saying 'these islands belong to us'.

"It's about territorial integrity and this is something we've seen in China time and time again. China is saying that Taiwan is part of China, that Tibet belongs to China, so it's part of a wider theme."

Territorial dispute

The incident comes as the number of Chinese vessels fishing near the disputed islands has risen since last month, Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper says.

The daily said about 160 Chinese vessels were fishing near the islands on Tuesday and 30 of them were inside what Japan says are its territorial waters.

The Chinese government has reiterated its claim to the Diaoyu, as well as its adjacent islets and their waters, urging Japan not to patrol there.

But Satoru Sato, the Japanese foreign press secretary, said on Wednesday that Japan's territorial ownership of the Senkaku is "the undeniable fact".

Territorial disputes has long caused tensions in Japan-China relations.

As the Chinese economy's demand for resources grows, China's commercial ships are venturing farther from shore and its more powerful navy is enforcing claims in disputed waters.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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