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Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010


Sensible or weak-kneed decision?

The Naha District Public Prosecutors Office on Friday decided to release a Chinese fishing boat captain who had been arrested Sept. 8 following his boat's collision the previous day with two Japan Coast Guard patrol boats in Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The release might help diffuse tension between Japan and China. But the incident reminds Japan that the "mutually beneficial, strategic relations" supposedly existing between the two nations can easily unravel and that Japan must always be prepared for a bad-case scenario.

The arrest caused bilateral ties to deteriorate quickly. China suspended ministerial and high-level exchanges with Japan as well as other exchanges. On Tuesday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, speaking in New York, demanded the immediate, unconditional release of the captain and threatened to take retaliatory action depending on Japan's response. China has restricted rare earth exports to Japan and, in Hebei Province, has detained workers (four Japanese and one Chinese) of a Japanese firm.

In an extraordinary move, the public prosecutors office stated that it was not appropriate to continue the investigation by detaining the captain in view of its effect on the Japanese people and Japan-China relations. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said the prosecution's decision was an independent one without interference from the government. Still, it will be interpreted as expressing the will of the Japanese state and leave the impression that Japan is weak-kneed toward China.

Mr. Wen's strong demand should be taken as a sign that pressure from hawks within the Chinese establishment had made it difficult for the Chinese government to appear any less overbearing in its efforts to resolve the situation.

On Thursday in New York, Prime Minister Naoto Kan and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed to consult closely on "maritime issues in the western Pacific," and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed in her talks with Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara that the Japan-U.S. mutual security treaty covers the Senkaku Islands. It is imperative that Japan communicate and cooperate closely with the United States on security issues in Northeast Asia while deepening political dialogue with China.

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