Tag Archives: Minjinyu 5179

Japan Gives Its Coast Guard New Powers In Waters Claimed By Beijing

When in 2010 Japan’s Coast Guard seized a Chinese trawler, the Minjinyu 5179, in disputed waters of the East China Sea close to the islands Japanese call the Senkaku and Chinese the Diaoyu it caused a diplomatic row that bought relations between Tokyo and Beijing to a testy and very public low. Repeat incidents since have been dealt with more discretely. But now Japan’s Coast Guard is being given greater powers by the country’s parliament to seize or expel ‘suspicious’ vessels in its waters, including in disputed waters claimed by Japan, more discretion over the use of weapons in such incidents and fresh powers to interrogate suspects on land.

The legislation appears aimed directly at China and comes in the wake of other moves to bolster Japan’s Self-Defence Forces in response to Beijing’s perceived military build-up in the region. We shall be watching to see how Beijing chooses to react to the Coast Guard’s new powers as a bellwether of the current state of bilateral relations. A few days ago, a visit to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands by Okinawa officials brought a swift complaint from Beijing while a group of Chinese activists attempted to sail there to protest against the Japanese visit.


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Japan Defuses Trawler Row, Moves On To Next China Test

It looks, as this Bystander suggested yesterday, that arms have been discreetly twisted. Japanese prosecutors say that the continuing detention of Zhan Qixiong, a Chinese fishing trawler captain at the center of a row between the two countries, would be “inappropriate considering the impact on relations with China”. Beijing, which has sent a plane to bring Zhan home, had been increasingly strident in its demand that the captain should be released unconditionally, its hard line returning Sino-Japanese relations to the icy state of recent years from which they were just starting to thaw.

The Japanese formulation sidesteps the question of whether charges would be brought or not, and thus the validity of Japan’s legal jurisdiction which is the heart of the issue as the incident took place in disputed waters near unoccupied islets in the East China Sea that Japan administers as the the Senkaku Islands and China claims as the Diaoyu Islands. Tokyo can present itself as not backing down but acting reasonably for a greater good. “Our ties are important and both sides must work to enhance our strategic and mutual beneficial relations,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told Reuters news agency. Whatever. That this minor incident escalated into a major row shows how much work needs to be done.

Meanwhile, both sides have confirmed that four Japanese men have been detained in China on suspicion of illegally filming in a military area in northern Hebei. Japanese foreign ministry officials say the quartet work for a Japanese construction company that is bidding for a contract to dispose of World War II era chemical weapons. Local state security authorities say their investigations are continuing. How Beijing deals with this matter should give an indication how it wants to calibrate its relationship with Tokyo in the immediate future, but we also expect it to continue to test where the boundaries of that relationship lie as it grows as East Asia’s dominant power.

Update: With Zhan back on Chinese soil, Beijing has demanded a formal apology from Japan and compensation for the captain’s detention; Tokyo has declined on both counts.


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Tokyo Drops The N-Word In Dispute With Beijing

Japan has dropped the N-word in the increasingly intractable fishing trawler dispute with China. Japan’s chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshito Sengoku, said officials “should be careful not to arouse narrow-minded extreme nationalism.” Though he stressed that was applicable not just to officials in China, it was clearly a barb at Beijing’s hard line in the dispute.

Within hours, the Chinese foreign ministry said a meeting between Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his Japanese counterpart Naoto Kan on the sidelines of the UN general assembly meeting in New York this week would be “inappropriate”. (Update: Wen has subsequently reinforced China’s hard line: “If Japan clings to its mistake, China will take further actions and the Japanese side shall bear all the consequences that arise,” he said in New York ahead of the U.N. meetings.)

Beijing has already suspended high-level exchanges with Japan and taken a range of other retaliatory moves following a Japanese court ruling over the weekend that the captain of the Chinese fishing vessel, Minjinyu 5179, alleged to have collided with Japanese coast guard ships on September 7 could be detained for an extra ten days while Japanese prosecutors decide whether to bring charges.

As we have noted before, Beijing has acted aggressively to avow its territorial claim to the disputed waters of the East China Sea around what Japan calls the Senkaku islands and China the Diaoyu islands, ratcheting up the pressure on Tokyo to back off bringing charges against the trawler’s captain under Japanese law. While Tokyo has sought to defuse the incident, it has shown no sign of backing down in the face of Beijing’s browbeating; if anything the Japanese Cabinet Secretary’s comments suggest Tokyo’s resolve is firming. This is becoming an increasingly high-stakes game of diplomatic chicken.

There would a high political cost for Japan’s still relatively new prime minister were he to buckle under pressure from Beijing the first time he was tested. There is some irony in the fact that Prime Minister Kan’s governing DPJ supports a foreign policy that is more Asia focused and more independent of the U.S. Relations with China have been improving since 2006, but as this latest incident shows, it doesn’t take much to scratch open the underlying nerves of distrust.  Other countries in the region who have disputed maritime borders with China will be looking on with some concern, and considering if tighter security relations with the U.S. might not offer them some insurance against similar treatment.

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Sino-Japanese Trawler Row Intensifies

The deadline for Japanese prosecutors to decide whether to charge the captain of a Chinese fishing trawler detained in disputed waters of the East China Sea has been extended by a Japanese court by 10 days to Sept. 29th, prompting a further round of protests from China and threats of “strong countermeasures”. Beijing has now suspended bilateral exchanges between officials down to the provincial level and called off scheduled talks on aviation and coal. It has also repeated its call for the captain of the Minjinyu 5179, Zan Qixiong, to be released immediately and unconditionally. The extended deadline gives more time for a diplomatic solution to be conjured up, but at the same time Beijing’s constant ratcheting up of the pressure on Tokyo is squeezing the space in which that can happen.

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Meanwhile, a series of small anti-Japan demonstrations have been held in cities across the country. One outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing is shown in the photograph to the left. Demonstrators were both asserting China’s territorial claims over the disputed East China Sea islands known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan, and marking the 79th anniversary of the 1931 Mukden incident — the start of the siege of Mukden, now called Shenyang, that led to Japan’s occupation of Manchuria as north-east China was then called.


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East China Sea’s Disputed Waters Get Busier

In another ratcheting up of the diplomatic dispute between Beijing and Tokyo following the detention of a Chinese fishing trawler by Japanese coast guards last week, foreign ministry officials say what they call  marine surveillance ships have been sent into the disputed waters of the East China Sea “to enhance law enforcement activities” and to “safeguard [China’s] marine rights and interests”.

The Foreign Ministry also confirmed that what it describes as maintenance work is to be carried out in the Chunxiao natural gas field, one of four in the East China Sea that straddle the disputed maritime border.  (On the map above, the field runs along the edge of the shelf to the north west of Naha in Okinawa.) Outgoing Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said earlier this week that what appeared to be drilling equipment had been taken to the field. Japan accepts that the Chinese oil and gas companies that operate the field, CNOOC and Sinopec, are working in Chinese waters, but is concerned that they might be draining deposits that lie on what Japan says is its side of the border. Talks on a treaty to jointly develop the disputed gas field, due to have been held this month, were suspended as a result of last week’s trawler incident.

The trawler, the Minjinyu 5179, and its crew have been released by the Japanese, with the vessel returning to Japan on Wednesday. Its captain remains in detention pending a decision by Japanese prosecutors on whether to bring charges.

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How Serious Is The Sino-Japanese Trawler Incident?

Are China’s protests over the detention by Japan of the Chinese fishing vessel Minjinyu 5179 routine or do they represent a true souring of Sin0-Japanese relations, was a question raised by Sino-Gist yesterday in a comment on our post about the crew, if not the captain, being released and flown back to Fuzhou with their ship following (by sea, obviously).

Certainly Beijing has been steadily upping the diplomatic ante; its latest protest to accompany its latest demand that the trawler’s captain be returned is to postpone a visit to Tokyo by Li Jianguo, vice chair of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, and thus a suitably senior official for this purpose. Japan’s coast guard, for their part, have shown themselves to be an equal opportunity patroler by turning back a group of Taiwanese activists (seen below setting out from the Taiwanese port of Yehliu) who had sailed into the disputed waters off China’s Diaoyu islands, Japan’s Senkaku islands or Taiwan’s Tiaoyu islands (take you pick of what to call the unoccupied rocky islets in the East China Sea) to assert Taiwan’s claims of sovereignty.

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This incident touches two Chinese nerves; the first is the long-standing animosity between China and Japan, which is rarely far from the surface and can easily be scratched open by any incident. The second is Beijing’s growing naval presence in the Western Pacific, not just the build up of its fleet but also an increasing assertiveness over its territorial claims in the East and South China Seas. Rich energy and mineral deposits lie under both seabeds, so Beijing won’t allow any counterclaim to its political and economic domain over them to go unchallenged. Hence Beijing’s denouncement of Japan trying to impose its domestic law in what it holds to be Chinese waters.

In that context, whether or not Japanese prosecutors bring charges against the captain of the trawler becomes significant to the longer-term impact of this incident. They have until September 19th to decide.


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Detained Fishermen Flown Home

The crew of the Chinese fishing trawler, the Minjinyu 5179, seized by Japan last week in disputed waters in the East China Sea has returned home after being released by the Japanese authorities, but that is not the end of the matter. The captain of the vessel, Zhan Qixiong, remains under arrest in Japan. Prosecutors have a week to decide whether to lay formal charges against him. The incident has caused increasingly strong diplomatic protests by Beijing, which has canceled talks due later this month with Japan over developing oil and gas fields in the disputed waters.


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Trawler Arrest Pours Cold Water On Warming Beijing-Tokyo Relationship

The consequences of Tuesday’s collisions between a Chinese fishing boat, the Minjinyu 5179, and two Japanese coast guard patrol vessels in disputed waters in the East China Sea are threatening to get out of hand. The captain of the Chinese trawler, Zhan Qixiong, has been handed over to Japanese prosecutors who will decide if he is to face charges of illegal fishing in Japanese waters. Increasingly strong diplomatic protests are flying back and forth, or at least from west to east. Beijing has demanded the release of the trawler and its crew, says that Tokyo can’t apply Japanese law in Chinese territory and that their broader relationship will be at risk it does.

The incidents, which occurred separately less than an hour apart, took place off the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, and which are claimed by both countries and also Taiwan, though controlled by Japan. This is not the first time the uninhabited islands have caused conflict between the two countries. Japan has repeatedly complained to China about Chinese trawlers and research ships entering what it says are its waters, while China has complained about interceptions of Chinese fishing trawlers, of which, Japanese coast guard officials say, there has been a noticeable increase off the islands since mid-August.

China is becoming more assertive about what it sees as its territorial rights in the western Pacific, including in the disputed areas of the South China Sea as well as in the East China Sea, where China’s growing naval might is unsettling to Japan, even as economic relations between the two countries have been warming in recent years after what has been a chilly period. One question now is whether the fishing trawler incident will affect talks due later this month over the contentious joint development of gas fields in the East China Sea.


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