Japan-China diplomatic tensions threatened to boil over Wednesday over collisions between Japan Coast Guard patrol boats and a Chinese fishing vessel near the Senkaku Islands and the ensuing arrest of the trawler’s captain.
Both Beijing and Tokyo lodged protests over the incident. According to media reports, about 50 people staged a protest rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, holding up banners, one of which read “Japan get out of Diaoyu Island,” using the Chinese name for the disrupted territory.
During his regularly scheduled news conference Wednesday morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku called for calm.
“We will deal with (the incident) fair and square in accordance with the law,” Sengoku said. “We must see to it that Japan handles the incident calmly and does not get over-heated.”
The Chinese boat’s captain, Zhan Qixiong, 41, was arrested early Wednesday and was taken to Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture at 7:25 a.m., the Japan Coast Guard said.
Zhan was arrested on suspicion of obstructing public duties of coast guard personnel over the collisions Tuesday in the East China Sea, which occurred after the coast guard tried to get the Chinese boat to vacate Japanese waters.
Under Japan’s criminal code, a person can be sentenced to a maximum three years in prison or a fine of up to ¥500,000 for obstructing authorities.
A coast guard representative in Tokyo said Zhan has only admitted that his craft collided with patrol vessels but offered no further information, including whether he intentionally steered his ship to bump into the coast guard boats.
The trawler’s 14 other Chinese crew members were not arrested, but the coast guard had them move the boat to the port in Ishigaki while their captain was being held for questioning.
Akitaka Saiki, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, filed a protest with Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua by phone Tuesday evening.
Cheng meanwhile strongly protested to the Foreign Ministry over the “illegal detention of the captain,” arguing that the disputed islands have been Chinese territory since ancient times, the Chinese Embassy said on its website.
In Beijing, Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao summoned Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa and urged Tokyo to stop the “illegal interception” of Chinese fishing boats, the official Xinhua news agency reported late Tuesday.