China Japan territorial spat over a fishing boat flares
Even though China is Japan's largest trading partner, a fishing boat row between China and Japan this week highlights tender relations when it comes to disputed territory.
Japan Coast Guard/AP
ChinaÂ stepped up the pressure Friday in its latest territorial spat with Japan, as Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi demanded that Tokyo immediately free the crew of a Chinese fishing boat detained in disputed waters.
Mr. Yang made a â€śsolemn representation and protestâ€ť about Tuesdayâ€™s seizure, a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said, and â€śdemanded that Japan unconditionally release and return the entire crew of the fishing boat.â€ť The Chinese boat was seized after it collided with two Japanese patrol boats.
China is Japanâ€™sÂ largest trade partner and the two countries have made considerable progress in recent years to overcome decades of hostility and mistrust stemming from Japanâ€™s occupation of China last century.
But misgivings on both sides persist. And this latest spat over territory illustrates that relations remain tender.
The latest in the fishing boat spat
The Japanese Coast Guard turned the captain over to the prosecutor Thursday, increasing the chances he would be charged with deliberately ramming two Japanese patrol boats. His ship was seized near a chain of tiny uninhabited islands known in China as Diaoyu and in Japan as Senkaku.
â€śThis is a criminal case, so we have to implement domestic legislationâ€ť a Japanese government official who asked not to be identified said in a telephone interview. â€śThe room for maneuver is very limited.â€ť
At the same time, he added, â€śwe have no intention of playing up this event, and Japan is always prepared to make the necessary efforts to maintain stable relations with China.â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t think Japanâ€™s tough stance will last,â€ť predicts Huang Dahui, who studies Sino-Japanese relations at Renmin University in Beijing. â€śJapan will look at the situation in the light of its overall relationship with China.â€ť
This is not China's only territorial dispute
On Friday the Japanese Defense Ministry issued a report worrying that â€śChina has been intensifying its maritime activities including in waters near Japan.â€ť
China is involved in territorial disputes with a number of its neighbors, including Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam. Beijing was angered recently when Hillary Clinton suggested that Washington might mediate some of those disputes, and insisted that China would deal with them only bilaterally.
China and Taiwan both claim the Diaoyu/Senkaku, an island chain controlled by Japan that straddles rich fishing grounds and possible undersea oilfields.
Given the disputed ownership, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Thursday, â€śthe Japanese side applying domestic law to the Chinese fishing boat operating in this area is absurd, illegal, and invalid.â€ť
In Tokyo, the government has been growing impatient with what the Coast Guard says is an increasing number of Chinese fishing vessels entering Japanese-claimed waters in recent weeks.
â€śWe have been warning the Chinese government for the past two months, but it has never taken the necessary measures to improve the situationâ€ť says the Japanese government official. â€śWe are very unhappy with that.â€ť
In Beijing, however, the government is showing little sign of backing down. The Foreign Minister told the Japanese ambassador here that â€śthe Chinese government is staunch and unwavering in defending its sovereignty over the Diaoyu islands and the rights and interests of Chinaâ€™s citizens,â€ť the ministry spokesman said.
â€śJapan should not ignore or underestimate Chinaâ€™s spirit on this case,â€ť warns Professor Huang. â€śChina will not give in on this issue.â€ť