Senkaku collisions video leak riles China

Tokyo probes how footage got to YouTube

by Masami Ito and Mizuho Aoki

A video apparently taken by the Japan Coast Guard of the Sept. 7 collisions between a Chinese trawler and patrol vessels off the Senkaku Islands has shown up on YouTube, prompting China to express “concern” over already strained bilateral relations.

The 44 minutes of footage, uploaded on the video-sharing website in six parts, shows the Chinese boat bumping into Japanese cutters twice while coast guard personnel can be heard repeatedly issuing warnings in Chinese and Japanese.

The government launched an investigation into how the video ended up on the Web.

Chinese media reports have claimed the Japanese vessels bumped into the Chinese fishing boat, stoking fierce criticism among Chinese people against Japan.

Beijing has also criticized Japan for arresting and detaining the trawler’s captain under Japanese law in what they claim is Chinese territory. The Chinese anger eventually led to large-scale anti-Japan street rallies last month.

Beijing has not made an official statement over the footage, but Japan-China relations have been extremely strained ever since the run-in and ensuing arrest. The islands in the East China Sea are controlled by Japan but claimed by both China and Taiwan. The skipper was freed Sept. 25.

With Japan set to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum next week, Prime Minister Naoto Kan is hoping to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines to smooth over the friction. It remains unclear whether such a meeting will take place.

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara revealed to reporters that Beijing expressed “interest” and “concern” about the video leak through diplomatic channels, but did not file a protest.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered his Cabinet ministers in the morning to conduct a “thorough investigation” and to keep a tight rein on sensitive information. Coast guard officials were trying to determine the video’s authenticity, but Maehara said it appeared to be genuine.

Fearing further diplomatic clashes with Beijing, the government has refused to disclose the video and instead only showed a brief edited version of the collisions to a limited number of lawmakers.

But the leak of the video, viewed hundreds of thousands times at least by Friday evening, prompted criticism from both Japanese lawmakers and viewers for keeping the images from the public.

“Civil servants have the duty of confidentiality and the basic principle is that they must not disclose information obtained in the line of duty,” Maehara said. “If someone in the government leaked the video or uploaded it on YouTube, it is a grave problem.”

Once the coast guard confirmed early Friday that the footage had been uploaded on YouTube, Commandant Hisayasu Suzuki and other senior officers scrambled to investigate the matter.

An official was sent to the JCG station on Ishigaki Island, which led the investigation against the trawler captain.

“We are conducting a careful investigation, including looking into whether or not the footage was taken by us,” Suzuki said, adding the footage of the collisions had been locked in a safe and nothing suspicious was detected.

Later in the day, transport minister Sumio Mabuchi, whose ministry oversees the coast guard, told a Lower House committee that the original video is in the hands of prosecutors and a master copy was given to the coast guard, but he refused to say how many copies exist.

“I believe that a thorough examination to get to the bottom of this information leak is necessary,” Mabuchi said. “And if a crime (of stealing the video) has been committed, (a criminal) investigation must naturally be held.”

On Monday, a limited group of lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties were allowed to view six minutes and 50 seconds of edited footage taken by the coast guard.

Mabuchi refused to say whether he thought the online footage was the same as the original, but several lawmakers who saw the edited version said Friday the video on YouTube appeared similar.

One of the clips shows a blue vessel, which appears to be the Chinese trawler, with voices repeatedly shouting “Stop” in Japanese amid loud sirens.

The blue boat appears to head toward and strike the vessel with the camera.

A shout that the blue boat “has collided into (the Japan Coast Guard) vessel,” apparently by a coast guard officer, can be heard.

The video footage also shows the blue vessel pulling up a fishing net and beginning to sail away after a coast guard vessel orders it to leave Japan’s territorial waters.

According to the coast guard, the trawler first collided with the patrol ship Yonakuni and later deliberately rammed the cutter Mizuki.

Chinese news media have reported the incident occurring the other way around. For example, on the news website of Sina Corp., an illustration showing a Japanese patrol craft ramming into the trawler has been displayed, the exact opposite of the video footage.