Japan relents, to release Chinese fishing vessel captain

Japan announced the unconditional release of the captain of a Chinese fishing trawler.

Last Updated: Sep 24, 2010, 20:36 PM IST

Beijing: Succumbing to intense pressure
from China, Japan on Friday announced the unconditional release of
the captain of a Chinese fishing trawler, easing tensions in
the fortnight-long diplomatic standoff between the two sides.

Japan`s announcement came a day after China detained
four Japanese nationals for allegedly shooting a video of
military targets in China.

On Wednesday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had warned
Japan that it should release the captain unconditionally or
face "further actions".

Zhan Qixiong -- the Chinese captain -- was arrested in
disputed waters off the coast of Diaoyu Islands, and charged
with damaging two ships of Japanese Coast Guard by ramming his
fishing trawler into them.

The news of his release sparked off celebrations in
China, adding to the prevailing mid-autumn festive mood.

Zhan, who was detained on Sept 7, would be released
five days ahead of the end his judicial custody.

A Japanese official said in Tokyo that the Chinese
citizen was being released in national interest and in the
interest of China-Japan ties.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said a
chartered plane would be sent to bring back Zhan, who is
"illegally detained" by Japan. He is expected to return home
later today.

"I reiterate that any form of the so-called judicial
procedures taken by Japan against the Chinese captain is
illegal and invalid," Jiang said.

The captain is expected to be accorded a rousing
reception on return as his detention has stirred up passions
among Chinese, aided by an orchestrated campaign in the state-
run media.

Buoyed by this success, China may strike more
aggressive postures in disputes in the South China Sea,
observers said here.

Japan had so far resisted the intense pressure mounted
by China which had summoned Tokyo`s Ambassador several times,
called off virtually all exchanges, cancelled tours of Chinese
tourists. But, it gave in after Beijing detained four Japanese
nationals for allegedly capturing video footage of military
targets.

Reports from Tokyo said the four detained people were
employees of Japanese urban redevelopment company Fujita Corp.

They were in China as part of a project to dispose off
chemical weapons abandoned by Japanese military in China at
the end of World War II.

There is no word here yet about their fate.

A day before their detention, Wen said in New York
that Japan should release the captain unconditionally or face
"further actions".

"If Japan clings to its mistake, China will take
further actions, and the Japanese side shall bear all the
consequences that arise," Wen said.

Following this a top Japanese official called for high
level talks, but the idea was rejected by China which asserted
that it has sovereign rights over the island and the captain`s
detention was illegal.

Tokyo apparently was also concerned about the fallout
on its exports to China and the resulting impact on its
fragile financial system.

China is Japan`s number one trade partner, while Japan
is China`s third largest import-export partner.

The bilateral trade last year touched USD 147, a jump
of 34.5 per cent due to steady improvement of relations
between the two countries, which have a history of mistrust
due to territorial disputes.

"A cooling of relations between Japan and China over
the Senkaku problem would be bad for Japan`s economy, but it
would also be a minus for China.

"It`s desirable that both sides respond in a calm
manner," Japan`s finance minister Yoshihiko Noda was quoted as
saying in the media commenting on the sudden slide of ties.

Zhan was detained off the Diaoyu Islands that are
currently under the administrative control of Japan, but to
which China and Taiwan also claim territorial rights.

Japan calls the island, which reportedly has huge
natural resources, as Senkaku islands.

Japan earlier released the 14-member crew of the
vessel and the trawler itself but charged Zhan under local law
ignoring protests from China, which had questioned the right
of the Japanese to arrest him.

PTI