The Chinese captain arrested after his fishing boat collided with Japanese patrol ships in 2010 was freed by government intervention, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku disclosed in a recent interview.
Sengoku is the first member of then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s Cabinet to admit the government engaged in behind-the-scenes talks with judicial authorities to gain the man’s release.
On Sept. 7, 2010, the fishing boat collided with two Japan Coast Guard ships off the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Sovereignty over the islets is a point of contention between Japan and China.
The skipper was arrested by the Japan Coast Guard the next day for obstruction of official duties. He was released Sept. 25 by the Naha District Public Prosecutor’s Office in Okinawa Prefecture, which said it was doing so in light of the impact on the Japanese public and the future of Japan-China relations. The skipper returned to China.
Kan insisted the prosecutors had decided to release him, an assertion echoed by then-Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida. Nevertheless, speculation persisted that politics had played a role.
In the interview last Thursday, Sengoku said he had long discussions with the then-vice justice minister, because a high-profile evidence-tampering scandal involving the special investigation unit of the Osaka District Public Prosecutor’s Office had also come to light at the time.
“I made a remark to the vice minister to the effect that I want the Public Prosecutor’s Office to voluntarily consider releasing the skipper of the fishing boat in light of political and diplomatic considerations, although I did not directly use such wording,” he said.
But Sengoku noted that the prosecutors decided on their own to set the skipper free.
Sengoku also said that a senior Foreign Ministry official was dispatched to the Naha District Public Prosecutor’s Office at the request of judicial and prosecution authorities.
Tokyo was concerned Chinese leaders might skip the 2010 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Yokohama in November, Sengoku said, adding that Kan felt pressed and wanted the matter to be settled as quickly as possible.
After the skipper’s release, Goshi Hosono, a key member of the then-ruling Democratic Party of Japan, visited China and met with then-Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who was in charge of overseas affairs.