Tokyo: Diplomatic tensions between China and Japan escalated Wednesday when Beijing called in Japan`s ambassador after a Chinese fishing boat collided with two Japanese patrol vessels near a chain of disputed islands and Tokyo arrested the boat`s captain.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao summoned Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa and urged Japan to stop the "illegal interception" of Chinese fishing boats, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said he doesn`t believe the arrest of the Chinese captain will affect Tokyo`s ties with Beijing.
"We will handle the matter firmly in accordance with the law," he told reporters. "It is important that in Japan we not get overly excited."
In Beijing, there was a small, organized protest Wednesday in front of the Japanese Embassy. About 30 people gathered to shout slogans and wave flags. Such events usually happen only with the approval of local police or officials. No property was damaged.
The group also submitted a letter of protest to the embassy.
Territorial disputes have been a disruptive undercurrent in Japan-China relations, which remain fraught despite attempts to improve them. As the robust Chinese economy`s demand for resources grows, China`s commercial ships are venturing farther from shore and its more powerful navy is enforcing claims in disputed waters.
Last month, a Chinese survey ship allegedly entered Japan`s disputed exclusive economic zone without prior notification, breaking a previous agreement between the two countries. In April, Chinese ships were spotted in international waters off Okinawa. Also that month, a Chinese helicopter came within 300 feet (90 meters) of a Japanese military monitoring vessel in the vicinity of a Chinese naval exercise.
Japan Coast Guard spokeswoman Akane Yonemori said Wednesday that the Chinese captain of the fishing boat had been arrested for allegedly obstructing public duties in connection with Tuesday`s collision near the chain of islands in the East China Sea.
She said the coast guard is investigating the captain and will also question the ship`s remaining 14 crew members.
No injuries were reported in the two separate collisions that occurred within 40 minutes, Japan Coast Guard spokesman Yosuke Oi said. The two Japanese patrol vessels sustained minor damage. It was unclear whether the Chinese ship was damaged.
The collisions happened in Japanese territorial waters off the northwestern coast of Japan`s Kuba island, just north of uninhabited, disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. The islands, about 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of Taiwan, are controlled by Japan but are also claimed by China and Taiwan.
The collisions occurred after the Japanese patrol vessels ordered the Chinese ship to stop for an inspection for allegedly violating international fishing laws after repeatedly ignoring earlier warnings to leave the area, Oi said.
Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for China`s Foreign Ministry, told a regular news conference Tuesday that Beijing had been in contact with Japan over the incident and was concerned about the situation.
Jiang said China reiterated its claim to the Diaoyu Islands and its adjacent islets and urged Japanese patrol boats in the area not to conduct any "so-called law enforcement activities or any actions that would jeopardize Chinese fishing boats or Chinese people."
"We are keeping a close eye on the developments and reserve the right to make a further response," she said.
Japan has lodged a protest with China several times over the entry of Chinese vessels into waters near the islands. Activists from Hong Kong and Taiwan have also sailed to the islands to make territorial claims.