Maehara hangs tough on Senkaku dispute

by Masami Ito

Newly appointed Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara repeated Wednesday that the recent collision between a Chinese trawler and Japan Coast Guard vessels occurred in Japanese territory and demanded China take measures to prevent a recurrence.

In an interview with The Japan Times and other media, Maehara said Japan took appropriate measures in arresting the Chinese captain of the ship and will do the same thing if a similar incident occurs.

The collision “was a malicious act that took place in an integral part of our nation’s sovereign territory and we handled it in accordance with domestic law,” Maehara said. “I would like to firmly demand that China take preventive measures, and if a similar incident should occur, I believe we will deal with it accordingly to our domestic law.”

Japan-China relations have been strained by the arrest of Zhan Qixiong, 41, on suspicion of obstructing the public duties of coast guard personnel near the disputed Senkaku Is lands in the East China Sea. The islands, which are under Japan’s administrative control but also claimed by China and Taiwan, are often the source of diplomatic tension.

Immediately after the arrest, China took a strong line with Japan, canceling high-level and cultural exchanges and stopping exports of rare earth metals.

Five days after Japan released the captain, China moved to lift the unofficial export ban.

But Maehara said Japan will continue to watch China cautiously, adding that four Japanese citizens are still under “house arrest” in Shijiazhuang.

The four construction employees were taken into custody by Chinese officials Sept. 20 on suspicion of entering and filming a restricted military area.

“We would like to carefully watch China’s movements for a little while longer,” Maehara said. “It is important to take definite actions” to resolve the issue as soon as possible and to explain why the four are under house arrest.

On the contentious relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Okinawa’s Ginowan to Henoko, Maehara stressed the need to gain the support of the Okinawan people and said he would not set a time frame for the move.

“I think the Japanese government needs to tenaciously seek the understanding of the Okinawan people without marking a time frame and I think we should also seek understanding from the U.S.,” Maehara said.

Last week, Maehara met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York, where she urged Japan, once again, to sign the Hague Convention on international child abduction, which is aimed at preventing parents from wrongfully keeping or taking their children to their countries before and after they divorce.

On Wednesday, Maehara declined to mention whether Japan would sign or not, but said there were strong voices in Japan against signing it.

“We understand the U.S.’ position, but on the other hand, there are many voices in our country urging for careful consideration including from within our party,” he said.

“I believe we will have to come to a decision after considering all of these factors comprehensively.”