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Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010
China's hardening attitude
Relations between Japan and China are worsening over the arrest of the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that collided with two Japan Coast Guard patrol boats on Sept. 7 inside Japanese territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Both Tokyo and Beijing must prevent nationalistic feelings from boiling over in each country and hurting ties that had been rather smooth recently.
A Sept. 19 Japanese court decision to extend the detention of the captain for another 10 days through Sept. 29 has hardened China's attitude. China suspended ministerial and high-level exchanges with Japan. It also made it clear that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will not meet with Prime Minister Naoto Kan at the United Nations this week.
On the Japanese side, transport and tourism minister Sumio Mabuchi declined a courtesy call from a deputy chief of China's tourism administration. As Mr. Kan said, both sides should handle the situation with a levelheaded manner.
If the Chinese captain is indicted, China will further harden its attitude toward Japan. It cannot accept the idea of a Japanese law being applied to an incident that happened inside what it claims to be its territorial waters. But the Senkaku Islands belong to Japan. Tokyo incorporated them into Okinawa Prefecture in 1895. China enacted a territorial waters law in 1992, saying that the islands are part of China.
In March 2004, seven Chinese landed on the islands. But the Koizumi administration just deported them without sending them to public prosecutors, "judging the matter on a broader basis." But China should realize that the nature of the Sept. 7 incidence is completely different. A Japan Coast Guard patrol boat called on the Chinese vessel, which was about 70 meters behind it on the starboard side, to stop. Instead, the vessel suddenly turned to the left and hit the patrol boat. Japan has video footage of the altercation.
Japan may need a behind-closed-doors approach to diffuse tensions. Dialogue in whatever form is crucial. But Japan should not compromise its laws.