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Prosecutors now have Chinese trawler captain in custody

Date Posted: 2010-09-10

The ramming of two Japan Coast Guard patrol boats by a Chinese fishing trawler in Japanese waters in the disputed Senkaku Islands has ratcheted international tensions, with Japanese prosecutors now threatening to prosecute the Chinese boat’s captain.

The 41-year-old trawler captain was handed over to prosecutors by the Japan Coast Guard yesterday, 48 hours after his boat first fled the scene off Kuba Island, north of the disputed island chain the Chinese call Diaoyu. Zhan Qixiong and his fishing boat are believed to have been illegally fishing in Japanese waters, leading the Japan Coast Guard to try and stop him. He took off, then collided with a pursuing patrol boat, the Yonakuni, then 40 minutes later slamming into the patrol boat Mizuki.

Zhan is accused of obstructing public duties that resulted in the collision. He was taken into custody Wednesday by the Japan Maritime Police and taken to Ishigaki Island, where he’s admitted to the collision. Maritime Police turned him over to the Naha District Prosecutor’s Office. Japan’s Ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa, has twice been summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Beijing as diplomatic protests began flying. Niwa says the captain could be released, paying a fine and not standing trial, if he acknowledges violating the Japanese laws.

Beijing has levied harsh criticism on Japan for its stopping its fishing trawler, while Japan has done likewise, accusing China of illegally fishing in Japanese waters. Prime Minister Naoto Kan told the Chinese his country will respond firmly under Japanese domestic laws. China’s Assistant Foreign Minister, Hu Zhengyue, has lodged protests and demanded Zhan be released. Japan has already told China the 14-man crew is free to return to China if Chinese authorities send a boat to get them.

The Chief Cabinet Secretary for the Japanese government, Yoshito Sengoku, says the captain’s arrest followed normal procedures. “No special diplomatic consideration was given, and procedures were carried out in an orderly manner,” he said. “The matter was handled according to domestic Japanese law because Japan’s position has always been that no territorial issue exists over the Senkaku Islands.”

China disagrees, contending the islands belong to it. A mainland Chinese group, the China Federation for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, held a small-scale demonstration in front of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing. The activist group is promising more activity, including landing on the disputed islands during National Day holidays October 1st ~ 7th. Sengoku says the incident is not expected to interfere with relations between the two countries.

Illegal fishing has been problematic in the region, with Japanese authorities saying Chinese fishing boats can work in Japan’s EEZ near the Senkaku Islands, but must follow Japanese rules. Japan Coast Guard officials say about 270 Chinese fishing boats have been operating in the region in recent days. Tuesday, at the time of the collision between the trawler and the two Coast Guard patrol boats, 160 Chinese fishing boats were in the area, with 30 of them having crossed within 22 kilometers of the Japanese coastline. The Coast Guard says it has issued numerous warnings before, but that there’s never been a collision or a protest before. The Chinese counter that argument with an accusation that “the collision was a Japanese conspiracy.” They say “Japan is trying to increase the risk for Chinese fishing boats entering waters of the Diaoyutai.”

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