The ruling and opposition parties agreed Thursday to ask the government to submit video footage documenting last month’s collisions between a Chinese trawler and Japan Coast Guard cutters to the Diet.
Media reported the government was likely to submit the footage, which Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara has claimed will clearly prove the Chinese vessel was at fault in the incident, which severely strained bilateral relations.
The release of the video, however, may also fuel criticism both at home and abroad by increasing public criticism of the government for releasing the captain of the ship too early and reigniting the war of words with Beijing.
The decision came after intense deliberations in the Lower House Budget Committee, which was attended by Prime Minister Naoto Kan and all of his Cabinet members.
The government has been criticized for caving in to Chinese pressure last Friday, and both ruling and opposition lawmakers have been demanding that key video footage be disclosed.
While apologizing to the public for the diplomatic tussle, Kan criticized China for its handling of the incident near the Senkaku Islands, although he said he had not yet seen the video.
Kan said it was his primary duty as prime minister to protect the disputed islands, which are under Japan’s administrative control but claimed by China and Taiwan.
He also said he didn’t plan to “budge an inch” on the issue.
“Both circumstantial evidence and Chinese maps clearly indicate that the Senkaku Islands are part of Japan’s territory,” he said. “It is most certain from both historical, international and legal perspectives that they are an integral part of Japan.”
But Itsunori Onodera of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party slammed Kan for letting the Naha Prosecutor’s Office release the captain before watching the footage himself.
“I consider this our nation’s biggest foreign policy blunder since the end of World War II, and I believe Prime Minister Kan is the one solely responsible for this failure,” Onodera said.
The opposition has criticized the Naha prosecutors for exceeding their authority by releasing the captain, which they said was done with diplomatic relations in mind. The opposition camp has also accused the government of meddling in the decision.
But Kan insisted the decision to release the captain was made independently by the prosecutors and that he believed it was appropriate.
Kan also said he plans to clarify Japan’s stance on the disputed islands during his trip to Brussels next week for the Asia-Europe Meeting, which Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will also be attending.
China has demanded an apology and compensation since the release of the captain, while Japan in return has asked Beijing to pay for the damage to the coast guard vessels.
Hosono in Beijing
JIJI Diet member Goshi Hosono of the Democratic Party of Japan held talks in Beijing Wednesday with senior Chinese officials in a bid to repair frayed bilateral ties, informed sources said.
Hosono, formerly deputy secretary general, is believed to have conveyed a message from Prime Minister Naoto Kan calling on China to make efforts toward easing the strain from last month’s Senkaku incident.
According to sources in the DPJ, Hosono went to China as Kan’s special envoy and is believed to have carried a letter from the prime minister, they said.
The Hosono visit is being viewed by analysts as a signal to Beijing that Kan views the China relationship as important.
Sources familiar with the matter also said Hosono submitted a request that China release the four Japanese being held in Hebei Province.
Later Thursday, three of the four men, all employees of construction firm Fujita Corp., were released. They men were being held for allegedly entering a military area without authorization and filming military targets.
Hosono also may have asked Beijing to agree to arrange a meeting between Kan and Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting that starts Monday in Brussels, the sources said.
Hosono’s visit was arranged by Kan and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, some sources said. But Kan told reporters Wednesday night he wasn’t aware of Hosono’s visit.
Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said the matter has nothing to do with the government.
In the DPJ’s leadership election on Sept. 14, Hosono supported former party Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, who has strong connections with China. Hosono took part in an Ozawa-led mission of DPJ lawmakers to China last December and was present at a meeting between Ozawa and President Hu Jintao during the visit.
Envoy’s special visit
China’s ambassador to North Korea visited Japan in September and met with senior members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, diplomatic sources said Thursday.
Liu Hongcai, who stayed in Japan for four days starting Sept. 12 to attend a gathering of Chinese envoys to neighboring Asian nations, is believed to have exchanged views with the DPJ officials on the row over the Senkaku Islands and issues related to North Korea, the sources said.
Liu was once stationed at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo and is considered very knowledgeable about Japan.