Japan frees Chinese boat crew but no mention of captain

Japan leaves unclear what will become of the arrested Chinese boat captain.

Beijing: Japan on Monday freed the crew of a Chinese fishing boat held last week in disputed waters, leaving unclear what will become of the arrested captain at the centre of a territorial rift between the two neighbours.

"The 14 illegally held Chinese boat crew members were released by Japanese coast guard authorities," China`s official Xinhua news agency said in a brief report which did not mention the arrested captain, Zhan Qixiong, as among those released.

The 14 crew are on their way home by plane, Xinhua added, having been kept aboard their boat in a harbour on the southern Japanese island of Ishigaki.

The row over the detained fishing boat has given an emotive focus to a long-running dispute between Beijing and Tokyo over who owns a group of islets in the East China Sea.

On Friday, a Japanese court authorised a 10-day extension in detaining the arrested Chinese boat captain, named as Zhan.

China had summoned Japan`s ambassador four times to protest the detentions, and warned Tokyo on Sunday against making "misjudgements" in a case which has set back efforts to ease decades of distrust.

China also called off planned talks with Japan over an undersea gas bed dispute in another part of the East China Sea and warned that worse repercussions may follow.

Relations between Beijing and Tokyo have long been dogged by mutual distrust and Chinese bitterness over Japan`s occupation of much of China before and during World War Two.

Since big public protests in China against Japan and bitter diplomatic exchanges in 2005 and 2006, both sides have sought to improve ties.

But they have stubborn disagreements over their sea rights, especially over a group of islets in the East China Sea, called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

China insists the islands have been Chinese territory since ancient times.

Bureau Report