China calls in Japanese ambassador for 3rd time to complain about detention of boat captain

By Scott Mcdonald, AP
Friday, September 10, 2010

China calls in Japan envoy for 3rd time over boat

BEIJING — China summoned Japan’s ambassador for a third time Friday to protest the detention of the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that collided with Japanese patrol vessels near disputed islands, demanding he and his ship be released unconditionally.

China has said the incident could damage bilateral relations, showing the sensitivity of the territorial dispute, one of several that form a troubling undercurrent in China’s relations with its Asian neighbors. As the robust Chinese economy’s demand for resources grows, Beijing’s commercial ships are venturing farther from shore and its more powerful navy is enforcing claims in disputed waters.

The crash occurred Tuesday after the Chinese ship refused to stop for an inspection by the patrol vessels after repeatedly ignoring their earlier warnings to leave the area, Japan’s coast guard said.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa that 41-year-old captain Zhan Qixiong, his crew and boat had to be freed immediately, a ministry statement said.

Yang “emphasized that the Chinese government’s determination to safeguard the sovereignty of the Diaoyu islands and the nation’s people is firm and steadfast,” it said.

The incident happened off the northwestern coast of Japan’s Kuba island, just north of the disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. The islands, about 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of Taiwan, are controlled by Japan but are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

The Chinese government also said it was sending a law enforcement ship to the islands in the East China Sea — though it was unclear if the vessel would collect the stranded fishermen or patrol those waters.

At a regular news conference Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said it was “absurd, illegal and invalid” for Japan to be applying its domestic laws to the case.

Japan’s coast guard has said Zhan 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. If not, he would likely have to stand trial.

The remaining 14 crew members have remained on the fishing boat, the coast guard said. The crew cannot land in Japan because they do not have passports but are free to return to China, if the Chinese send a vessel to pick them up, it said.

This isn’t the first territorial dispute between the countries. Last month, a Chinese survey ship allegedly entered Japan’s disputed exclusive economic zone without prior notification, breaking a previous agreement between the two countries. In April, a Chinese helicopter came within 300 feet (90 meters) of a Japanese military monitoring vessel in the vicinity of a Chinese naval exercise.

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report from Tokyo.

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