Japan to ask China to pay for damage to patrol boats hit by Chinese fishing boat

Monday, September 27, 2010

Japan to ask China to cover damage to patrol boats

TOKYO — Japan will ask China to pay for damage to Japanese patrol boats hit by a Chinese fishing boat earlier this month near disputed islands.

The remarks Monday morning by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku come a day after Japan’s prime minister rejected China’s demand that Tokyo apologize and offer compensation for the arrest of the Chinese boat captain involved in the incident.

The captain was released Friday, but the diplomatic back-and-forth since them shows that relations between the two Asian nations remain strained.

“At this point, the ball is now in China’s court,” Sengoku said.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

BEIJING (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Sunday rejected China’s repeated demand that Tokyo apologize and offer compensation for the arrest of a Chinese boat captain whose detention caused relations between the Asian neighbors to plunge to their lowest level in years.

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.

“I have no intention of accepting (the demand) at all,” Kan said. “It is important for both sides to act with a broader point of view.”

Kan made the remarks after China reiterated its demand for an apology from Japan late Saturday, hours after Japanese authorities released the captain whose vessel collided with Japanese patrol boats near disputed islands this month.

Several major newspapers in China on Sunday carried reports about Chinese calls for an apology and compensation on their front pages, some with photos of the returned boat captain being greeted by his wife and son.

In Japan, opposition legislators lambasted the decision to release the captain as a sign that the government was caving into outside pressures.

“This is tone-deaf diplomacy,” said Nobuteru Ishihara, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, the largest opposition party.

He said on a nationally televised news talk show Sunday that he was determined to pursue the move in parliament, including summoning officials for testimonies.

But Katsuya Okada, secretary-general of the ruling Democratic Party, defended the government’s handling of the crisis and denied any pressure on prosecutors to release the captain.

In southwestern Nagasaki, a 20-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of throwing a flare into the grounds of the Chinese Consulate in that city, police said.

No one was injured, a police official said. The man was taking part in a parade of right-wing trucks expressing anger at the dispute with China, he said.

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.

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.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu responded by saying “China of course has the right to demand Japan apologize and make compensation.”

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 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.

Meanwhile, Japanese trading company officials said that starting Tuesday, China had halted exports to Japan of rare earth elements, which are essential for making high-tech products. China’s Trade Ministry denied that Beijing had tightened curbs.

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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