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Fisherman's arrest in Asia: China and Japan must not trawl for trouble

Japan's arrest of a Chinese fishing captain in disputed waters reveals sharp tensions over regional dominance. The incident requires a calm resolution.

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Half of humanity lives in Asia, which makes it troubling when an incident triggers tensions over which nation will dominate the region in the 21st century.

Right now that tension is focused on Zhan Qixiong, the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel captured by Japan on Sept 7. Just how and when he is released will be a clue as to whether Asia will enjoy a peaceful future.

Mr. Zhan and his crew of 14 were arrested after fishing too close to a set of islands claimed by both China and Japan. The crew has since been released, but the captain is charged in Japanese court with ramming a Coast Guard vessel.

He is a pawn in a test of wills between China and Japan (and by proxy, the United States) over who will call the shots in Asia. With its burgeoning economy and Navy, China seeks to displace the US as the longtime guardian of Asia’s peace – and to keep Japan in line as well.

The contest has so far come in many venues – trade deals, territorial claims, and encounters on the high seas. But Zhan’s detention has evoked strong emotions, revealing a China more eager to assert itself and a Japan more willing to stand up to its giant neighbor.

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