China media warn Japan over escalating sea row

China`s government on Sunday suspended high-level exchanges with Japan.

Beijing: Chinese media on Monday warned Japan to expect deepening retaliation over a sea dispute, calling the detention of a Chinese boat captain a test of wills between Asia`s two biggest economies.

China`s government on Sunday suspended high-level exchanges and threatened more measures after a Japanese court extended to September 29 the detention of Zhan Qixiong, whose fishing boat collided with two Japanese coast guard ships near islets claimed by both sides early this month.

"China should have a set of plans in place to further sanction Japan, fighting a diplomatic battle with Japan of successive retaliation," said an editorial in the Global Times, a popular tabloid that focuses on international news.

"China should use enough resources and force, and be prepared to sustain losses, because if we don`t, Japan will go further down the path of a hard line toward China, and conflict that erupts between China and Japan will be even more intense," it said.

The increasingly angry rhetoric, including calls on the Internet for a boycott of Japanese goods, marks a setback for efforts by both sides to ease decades of distrust over wartime memories and growing wariness about each other`s militaries and rival claims in the East China Sea.

"The worst situation could be a worsening of political ties, such as cancelled meetings between top leaders. But I do not think there will be a direct impact on bilateral trade. The two economies are too closely connected," said Chen Qi, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing who studies regional relations.

"I think it will be more or less a war of words, and everything will remain under control," Chen added.

Bilateral trade reached JPY 12.6 trillion (USD 146.8 billion) in the first half, a jump of 34.5 percent over the same time last year, according to Japanese statistics.

On Sunday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu repeated his government`s demand that Japan immediately release Zhan, the captain, and said Tokyo would face greater pressure if it did not. Japan urged China to stay calm over the issue.

China has already called off meetings with Japanese officials, including planned talks over disputed gas fields in the East China Sea. More snubs may follow.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan will both attend the UN General Assembly meetings this week in New York but will probably not meet.

In November, Chinese President Hu Jintao is due to visit Japan for the APEC regional summit. In the past, Hu has attended such regional meetings even when bilateral ties have been frosty.

Beijing appears set against allowing a repeat of the sometimes violent protests that broke out against Japan in 2005, when Chinese public ire focused on then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi`s visits to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, called by critics an unrepentant symbol of wartime aggression.

Protests in Chinese cities over the weekend were small and tightly watched by police. On Monday, the Japanese embassy in Beijing remained under heavy security.

Bureau Report