We updated our previous post on the Sino-Japanese trawler incident to note that Beijing had demanded a formal apology from Tokyo and compensation for the detention of the vessel’s captain, Zhan Qixiong, both demands for which Japan has rebuffed. The question now is whether this was a final piece of bluster on Beijing’s part or is it now over-playing its hand?
Tag Archives: Zhan Qixiong
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.
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.
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.
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.