Japan holds Chinese sailor as diplomatic spat escalates

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The Independent Online

China's foreign minister demanded yesterday that Tokyo immediately release the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that collided with two Japanese patrol vessels near disputed islands. But a Japanese court ruled he can be held 10 more days, deepening the diplomatic spat.

Yang Jiechi made the demand to Ambassador Uichiro Niwa after the Japanese envoy was summoned for the third time over the crash.

Hours after Mr Yang's protest, a Japanese court allowed prosecutors to keep the captain in custody until 19 September, before deciding whether to press charges against him, Naha District Court spokesman Yasuhide Yamashiro said.

China has said the confrontation could damage its relations with Japan, showing the sensitivity of the territorial dispute, one of several troubling China and its Asian neighbours. As the robust Chinese economy's demand for resources grows, Beijing's commercial ships are venturing farther from shore and enforcing claims in disputed waters.

The collisions occurred on Thursday after the Chinese fishing boat ignored warnings from the patrol vessels to leave the area and then refused to stop for an inspection, Japan's coast guard said. The incident happened off Japan's Kuba island, just north of disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. The islands are controlled by Japan but are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Yang told Mr Niwa that captain Zhan Qixiong, his crew and boat had to be freed immediately, a ministry statement said.In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told a news conference yesterday that it was regrettable that Mr Niwa had been summoned by Yang.

"We are only taking proper steps based on law because there was an alleged obstruction of public duties in our territorial waters," Okada said.

The spat has stirred nationalistic passions in China, with newspapers and activists calling for a tough stand against any threats to China's territorial claims.