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.
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.
None of this seemed to count for much when the Japanese coast guard seized a Chinese trawler and Chinese diplomats went into overdrive to win its release.
“For all the diplomatic visits, all the talking, all the naval exchanges, all the trade, the underlying dynamic of conflict in the East China Sea has not changed,” Mr. Harris points out.