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Japan gets tough on Senkaku; China responds

Date Posted: 2010-09-30

Nearly three weeks after a Chinese trawler operating in disputed Japanese waters triggered a near-international crisis, tensions continue to escalate between the two governments and from the captain of the fishing boat.

Zhan Qixiong says he’s ready to take another fishing boat back to the Senkaku Islands, where he was detained more than two weeks by Japanese authorities after his vessel rammed two Japan Coast Guard vessels trying to stop him. The 41-year-old captain claims the Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu by the Chinese, are actually Chinese territory. He was released by Japan without being charged with obstruction, but Zhan is defiant that he and his 14-man crew did nothing wrong.

China has adopted the same stance, deploying a pair of its fisheries patrol boats to the Senkaku Islands. The Agriculture Ministry operates the fisheries patrol boats, some of which are decommissioned Chinese Navy vessels, “to protect” the country’s fishing boats and control “illegal operation” of foreign fishing vessels. Japan demanded Monday that the patrol boats be removed from the area, with the government summoning the Chinese ambassador to Japan to give him the order.

Tokyo is demanding China pay damages inflicted upon two Japan Coast Guard vessels during the September 7th incident. “This is an important issue for the government, separate from the issue over whether such a payment is made shortly or sometime after the two countries’ relations ‘have cooled down’”, says Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku. Sengoku’s announcement came shortly after Prime Minister Naoto Kan rejected a Chinese demand for an apology for Japan Coast Guard actions in detaining the fishing vessel and its crew. “I have no intention of accepting (the demand) at all,” said Kan. “It is important for both sides to act with a broader point of view.”

Okinawa’s governor has expressed concerns about the mounting tensions. Hirokazu Nakaima has asked the central government to beef up security around the Senkaku Islands, as well as in the southernmost prefecture as a whole. Nakaima says he wants to visit the disputed islands himself, another move expected to irritate China. Nakaima has joined the chorus of Japanese voices reiterating that the islands are Japan’s inherent territory, saying he doesn’t believe there’s a territorial dispute issue since the Senkaku’s are part of Okinawa.

Even as China is generating a tough political atmosphere, with customs inspectors telling Japanese companies they now face 100% inspections of air cargo being exported to Japan, and 50% unpacking checks, Japan’s Prime Minister is hoping to cool the rhetoric with a meeting in Brussels Oct. 4th or 5th with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. China has confirmed Wen will attend the Asia-Europe Meeting, but no word on if he’ll meet with Japan’s leader.

“From now on, I believe Japan will begin a process of enriching its mutually beneficial and strategic relationship with China,” says the Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary. “At the moment, the ball is in China’s court.” Beijing’s Wen doesn’t necessarily agree. “If Japan clings to its mistake, China will take further actions and the Japanese side shall bear all the consequences that arise,” he said in New York.

Other Chinese officials are trying to ease the tension, with the Foreign Ministry holding out an olive branch. Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said China recognizes importance to the Japan-China alliance. She’s the first Chinese official since the September 7th incident to suggest a desire to mend fences.

Even as she was suggesting the two countries need to pull together, Jiang was continuing to insist Japan should make the efforts to repair relations with China, noting the Japanese side should bear responsibility since it damaged the Chinese fishing boat within Chinese waters. She says her country’s patrol boats will continue to stay in the Senkaku Island region. China is claiming sovereignty over the islands, as do Japan and Taiwan.

Japan’s former Foreign Minister has criticized China for its apology and compensation demands. Katsuya Okada says “everybody knows China is not a democratic country, but the latest demands will make that explicit.” He says he thinks Japanese are “disappointed” by China’s posturing.

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