Japan refuses to apologise to China over fishing boat arrest







Japan is refusing to apologise for detaining a Chinese fishing boat captain, showing no signs of softening in a dispute between the two economic powers after Japan gave ground and released him.
Japanese prosecutors on Friday released the captain whose detention in disputed waters in the East China Sea sparked the worst diplomatic row between Tokyo and Beijing in years.

China greeted the captain’s return by demanding an apology and compensation from Tokyo and restating its claim to the disputed waters where he was seized.
“It is unlawful and invalid for Japan to detain and investigate the boat captain and to take any legal measures against him,” said a statement issued by the official Xinhua news agency. “Japan must offer China an apology and compensation over this incident.”

“There is no territorial issue that needs to be resolved over the Senkaku,” Japan’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday. “China calling for apology or compensation is groundless and is absolutely not acceptable.”

Naoto Kan, the Japanese prime minister, offered a more conciliatory tone, saying on Friday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that the two countries were important neighbours and must co-operate with one another.

It was hoped that the release of Zhan Qixiong would ease short-term frictions between the often fractious neighbours but it immediately exposed Japanese authorities to accusations that they had buckled in the face of pressure from Beijing.

For China there is also a risk that its tough approach could backfire as it feeds mounting concern across Asia about the rising power of an economy that has overtaken Japan as the world’s second largest.

The new bout of ill-feeling between Japan and China came as Chinese ties have soured with other countries in the region. Wen Jiabao, China’s premier, said the Diaoyu islands disputed by Japan and China were “sacred territory”, an indication of an increasingly bold attitude towards territorial claims.

“There is a lot of concern in the region that China is becoming more assertive and less willing to negotiate and compromise,” said Drew Thompson, a China specialist at Washington’s Nixon Center think-tank. “So these countries are turning to the US with more regularity.” Among south-east Asian countries there is growing anxiety about Beijing’s approach to several islands in the South China Sea claimed in full or in part by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Brunei.

These rumblings of discontent have given an opportunity for the US to reassert itself in Asian diplomacy and security.

Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, used a meeting in Hanoi in July to announce that the US could mediate in the disputes, to the annoyance of Chinese officials. Barack Obama, US president, met south-east Asian leaders on Friday to discuss the South China Sea issue.

China has also had low-level diplomatic arguments with India in the past 18 months. Beijing’s refusal to attack North Korea for the sinking of a South Korean warship in March also sparked anger in Seoul.

Some analysts see the harder attitude in Beijing as a result of political positioning before a 2012 leadership transition but others said it reflected a desire among Chinese leaders to turn economic strength into diplomatic leverage.

Japan is a case in point of the shifting political tide in Asia.

After taking office last year, Japan’s Democratic party-led government tried to improve relations with China. However, the harshness of China’s response to the detention of the fishing boat captain is likely to strengthen the argument of those DPJ members who believe that Japan should deepen its alliance with the US and acquire more ability to project military force in defence of its interests.

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