Japan releases captain; China demands apology

The release is intended to defuse a diplomatic spat between China, Japan.

Updated: Sep 25, 2010, 10:54 AM IST

Beijing: China demanded an apology and compensation from Japan on Saturday after it released a Chinese fishing boat captain held more than two weeks after a collision near disputed islands that has triggered the worst spat between the Asian neighbours in years.

Japanese authorities released Zhan Qixiong, 41, early Saturday morning and he was flown home by chartered plane to Fuzhou, the capital of China`s southeastern Fujian province, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Though his release is intended to defuse a diplomatic spat sparked when Japan arrested the captain after his trawler collided with two Japanese patrol boats near islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries, tensions remain high.

China`s Foreign Ministry issued a statement repeating its "strong protest" that the boat crew had been detained and sought an apology from Japan.

"It is unlawful and invalid for Japan to detain, investigate or take any form of judicial measures against the Chinese fishermen and trawler. The Japanese side must make an apology and compensation for this incident," the statement said.

Zhan`s release came after intense pressure from China, which suspended ministerial-level dialogue with Tokyo and postponed talks on developing disputed undersea gas fields. Earlier this week, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had sternly threatened "further action" against Japan if it did not immediately release the captain.

On Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was in New York for a UN summit also attended by Wen, called for calm discussions between China and Japan in the wake of the tense territorial spat.

But an editorial on Saturday in Japan`s nationally circulated Yomiuri newspaper criticised the captain`s release as "a political decision that put the mending of relations as a priority" and urged the Japanese government to fully explain its decision to the people.

"Needless to say, the Senakaku Islands are part of Japan`s territory. The government must continue to assert this view both domestically and abroad," it said.

Zhan was arrested on September 08 after the collision off the uninhabited chain of islands called Diaoyu or Diaoyutai in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. Located 120 miles (190 kilometres) east of Taiwan, the islands are controlled by Japan, but also claimed by Taiwan and China.

Prosecutors had detained and questioned the captain while they decided whether to press charges. His 14-member crew and ship were returned to China.

The captain`s arrest, and the territorial dispute behind it, stirred nationalistic sentiment in China and Japan and threatened to undermine business ties between their intertwined economies — the world`s second- and third-largest.

On Thursday, Beijing said it was investigating four Japanese suspected of illegally filming military targets and entering a military zone without authorisation. Also, there were reports China had suspended Japan-bound shipments of rare earth metals crucial in advanced manufacturing.

Fujita Corp, a Japanese construction company, confirmed on Friday that four of its Japanese employees were being questioned by Chinese authorities. The company said the men were working to prepare a bid for a project to dispose of chemical weapons abandoned in China by the Japanese military during World War II.

Chinese authorities accuse the men of entering a military zone without authorisation.

Bureau Report