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China-Japan row threatens five-year warming trend between old foes

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Instead, Japan has demanded that China pay for repairs to its damaged patrol vessels, and repeatedly complained to Beijing about the presence of two Chinese fisheries protection ships near the islands at the heart of the territorial dispute, since Friday.

China, meanwhile, continues to hold four Japanese citizens arrested last week for investigation on charges they had illegally trespassed into a military zone.

On Tuesday, each side held the other responsible for the next step to improve ties. “The ball is already in China’s court,” said Yoshito Sengoku, the Japanese chief cabinet secretary. “We hope that Japan will take practical steps to repair Sino-Japanese relations,” countered Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.

What happened to diplomatic warming?

Only a few weeks ago, Beijing and Tokyo were still pursuing the diplomatic efforts that they had been making for nearly five years to try to mend their troubled relations, soured by Chinese memories of harsh Japanese occupation, military mistrust, and competing territorial claims.

In what the Chinese termed a “warm spring” in the relationship, one Japanese Prime Minister after another visited Beijing, and both Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Chinese President Hu Jintao went to Tokyo. Chinese warships visited Japanese ports, Japanese schoolchildren visited China on school trips, and Sino-Japanese trade leaped to record levels.

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