Tokyo: Japan said Tuesday that China has postponed a senior official`s visit to Tokyo in an escalating diplomatic row over the arrest of a Chinese fishing captain after a ship collision near islands claimed by both countries.
The captain was arrested after his ship collided nearly a week ago with two Japanese patrol boats near a set of disputed East China Sea islands, setting off a row between the world`s second- and third-largest economies.
The dispute has prompted anti-Japanese activists in China and Taiwan — which also claims the islands — to sail to the area in protest missions, although both governments have sought to rein them in so as not to inflame tensions further.
Li Jianguo, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People`s Congress, was scheduled to visit Japan for a five-day trip starting Wednesday at the invitation of the Japanese Lower House of Parliament.
But Beijing told Tokyo on Monday that it wanted to delay Li`s visit for "various reasons," said Shu Kajita, an official at Japan`s Lower House of Parliament. Kajita said Chinese officials did not elaborate on the reasons for the postponement.
"Li was supposed to hold talks with Japanese lawmakers. But the Chinese side only told us they wanted to delay his planned visit," Kajita said.
Japan sought to ease tensions Monday by freeing 14 crew members of the Chinese trawler. But it continues to detain the captain, Zhan Qixiong. A Japanese court has granted prosecutors permission to keep the captain in custody until September 19 to decide whether to formally indict him on charges of obstructing public duties.
Beijing sees the case against the captain as a provocation against its claim of sovereignty over the disputed islands, called Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkakus in Japanese. Located about 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of Taiwan, the islands are controlled by Japan, but also claimed by Taiwan and China.
"China expresses strong dissatisfaction with and grave protest against Japan`s obstinate decision to put the Chinese captain under the so-called judicial procedures," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Monday. "Japan will reap as it has sown, if it continues to act recklessly."
On Friday, Beijing said it was postponing talks scheduled earlier with Japan on contested undersea deposits in the East China Sea. Early Sunday, China`s State Councilor Dai Bingguo called in Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa — the fourth time that he was summoned over the incident.
While worried about appearing weak in front of a nationalistic public, China`s communist leadership has also tried to rein in activists to prevent any patriotic displays from spiraling beyond its control.
On the Chinese mainland, activist Qiu Haitaing said he abandoned a plan to sail to the islands after being harassed by plainclothes police officers in the port the Jingiang, where the detained boat captain is from.
In Xiamen, about a dozen other activists said they waited in port for a second day unable to set sail.
"On the surface, the Chinese government is saying that it won`t support or oppose or ban these protest actions organized by civic groups. But they are threatening boat owners so they are afraid of setting sail," Lo Chau, a Hong Kong activist with the group, told Hong Kong reporters in Xiamen.
Activists in Hong Kong are passionate about the issue because they feel the Japanese claim over the islands is an extension of lingering Japanese imperialism that has resisted remorse and reparations for World War II atrocities, said legislator Albert Ho.
Meanwhile, three Taiwanese activists set out by sea Monday to promote Taiwan`s claim to the islands. The Taiwanese coast guard barred six activists from Hong Kong from joining their trip.