Maehara again defends holding Chinese skipper

by Masami Ito

The arrest of a Chinese trawler captain involved in a collision with Japan Coast Guard patrol boats in disputed waters was appropriate, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara firmly stated once again Tuesday.

During a session of the Upper House committee on foreign affairs and defense, Maehara stressed that the collision was intentionally caused by the Chinese fishing boat and that video footage proves it.

“The trawler rammed the coast guard vessel and could have sunk it,” Maehara said. “It was a malicious act and I think that the arrest (of the captain) for obstructing the public duties of a government official was natural.”

Japan-China relations have been put under great strain by the incident near the Senkaku Islands, which are under the administrative control of Japan but are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Maehara repeatedly stressed that the islets are Japanese territory.

“There is no territorial dispute in the East China Sea,” he told the committee.

“The Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japan’s sovereign territory and it is natural to protect that sovereignty.”

Last week, a Chinese government official declared that “the Chinese fishing boat was illegally encircled and damaged by several Japanese patrol vessels.”

The government has yet to disclose the key video footage, triggering dissatisfaction from both the ruling and opposition parties. Under Article 47 of the Criminal Procedure Law, documents related to trials must not be disclosed unless deemed necessary under special circumstances.

On Tuesday, however, Senior Vice Foreign Minister Toshio Ogawa indicated the video footage may be disclosed now that the skipper has been released.

“We did not release the video up to now because it was evidence in an investigation,” Ogawa, a former prosecutor, said during the same Diet committee session.

“But the situation has changed and if there is a request from the Diet, I believe that the prosecutors will handle it accordingly.”

Meanwhile, Maehara revealed that the Foreign Ministry sent officials to explain the diplomatic situation to prosecutors last Thursday, the day before the decision to release the captain was made. But Maehara repeatedly stressed that the decision of the prosecutors was made independently and that no political influence was exerted.

Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Masahisa Sato, an opposition member of the Diet committee, slammed the government as weak for giving in to pressure from Beijing and releasing the skipper.

“It is obvious that Japan caved in to China’s pressure,” Sato said. By releasing the captain, “Japan gave the impression that it would relent under pressure and exposed that to the world,” he said.

Okinawa makes pleas

NAHA Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly adopted a resolution Tuesday demanding that the central government resolutely claim that the Senkaku Islands belong to Japan and another calling on China to treat the dispute “carefully and evenly.”

The resolutions were adopted amid continuing tension between Tokyo and Beijing despite the release last week of a Chinese fishing boat captain who had been detained after colliding with Japan Coast Guard vessels earlier this month.

In the resolution aimed at Tokyo, the assembly urged the government to “maintain a firm stance” over the islands, ensure the ability of local fishermen to operate freely and safely in the surrounding seas, and implement steps against the recurrence of a similar case.

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima told the assembly he will ask the central government to explain the incident and take diplomatic action to keep fishermen safe and preserve their fishery rights.

Located about 410 km west of Okinawa Island and 170 km northeast of Taiwan, the chain of islets in the East China Sea is under the jurisdiction of Okinawa Prefecture but claimed by China and Taiwan.