China repeats demand for apology, compensation from Japan over arrest of boat captain

By Gillian Wong, AP
Sunday, September 26, 2010

China repeats demand for Japan apology

BEIJING — China has reiterated its demand for an apology from Japan over the detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain whose arrest plunged relations between the Asian neighbors to their lowest level in years.

The statement from the foreign ministry late Saturday was issued after Tokyo refused earlier in the day to apologize to China following the release of the captain whose vessel collided with Japanese patrol boats near disputed islands this month.

“China of course has the right to demand Japan apologize and make compensation,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in the Chinese-language statement.

The diplomatic back-and-forth over the weekend demonstrated that nationalistic sentiments stirred up by the incident show few signs of dissipating. Tensions have already affected business ties between the nations’ intertwined economies — the world’s second- and third-largest.

Japanese authorities released the captain, Zhan Qixiong, early Saturday and he was flown home by chartered plane to Fuzhou in China’s southeastern Fujian province.

State broadcaster China Central Television showed Zhan, 41, smiling and holding his fingers in a victory sign as he walked off the plane. He was greeted by family members bearing flowers and a small group of government officials.

But hopes that his release would defuse mounting tensions were dashed when China promptly demanded an apology and compensation from Japan.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry said the demands were groundless and “absolutely cannot be accepted.”

Zhan was arrested on Sept. 8 after his boat collided with two Japanese patrol vessels near a chain of islands called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. The islands, about 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of Taiwan, are controlled by Japan but are also claimed by Taiwan and China.

Japanese prosecutors detained and questioned the captain while they decided whether to press charges, though his 14-member crew and boat were returned to China.

Zhan’s release came after intense pressure from Beijing, which suspended ministerial-level contacts with Tokyo and postponed talks on developing disputed undersea gas fields. This past week, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sternly threatened further action against Japan if it did not immediately release the captain.

The decision by Japanese prosecutors to let him go has prompted criticism within Japan. An editorial Saturday in the nationally circulated Yomiuri newspaper blasted the captain’s release as “a political decision that put the mending of relations as a priority.”

However, Japanese authorities said they wouldn’t officially close the case — leaving room for some ambiguity that would allow both countries to save face.

The tensions have spilled over into other issues.

On Thursday, Beijing said it was investigating four Japanese suspected of entering a military zone without authorization and illegally filming military facilities. The four employees of Fujita Corp., a Japanese construction company, were working to prepare a bid for a project to dispose chemical weapons abandoned in China by the Japanese military during World War II, the company said.

Meanwhile, Japanese trading company officials said that starting Tuesday, China had halted exports to Japan of rare earth elements, which are essential for making superconductors, computers, hybrid electric cars and other high-tech products. Japan imports 50 percent of China’s rare earth shipments.

China’s Trade Ministry denied that Beijing had tightened curbs on exports of rare earths to Japan, but Japan’s trade minister, Akihiro Ohata, said he had “information” that China’s exports to some Japanese trading houses had been stopped.

The territorial dispute over the islands is one of many that has strained ties between Tokyo and Beijing. Japan annexed the island chain in 1895, saying no nation exercised a formal claim over them. The islands, lying roughly midway between Okinawa and Taiwan, were administered by the United States after World War II until they were returned to Tokyo in 1972.

Associated Press writers Yuri Kageyama and Malcolm Foster in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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