BEIJING – China took an unusual step on Sunday to increase pressure on Japan over a ship collision near the disputed Senkaku Islands, urging Tokyo to make a “wise political resolution,” and demanding the immediate release of the Chinese fishermen and fishing boat seized by the Japan Coast Guard.
State Councilor Dai Bingguo lodged the demand when he summoned Japanese Ambassador to China Uichiro Niwa to the Chinese Foreign Ministry in the early hours of Sunday. It is the fourth time that Chinese diplomatic authorities have summoned him since the incident occurred last Tuesday. The meeting between Dai and Niwa began Saturday midnight and lasted for 45 minutes, according to the Japanese Embassy in Beijing.
Dai is the highest-ranking Chinese official to comment on the case. It is extremely rare for a senior Chinese official to summon a foreign ambassador in the wee hours on a holiday.
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi summoned Niwa on Friday to protest Japan’s handling of the case, the same day a Japanese court granted the prosecutors’ request for a 10-day detention of the captain of the Chinese ship.
Dai warned Japan not to make a wrong judgment on the situation and urged it to make a “wise political resolution,” the official Xinhua News Agency quoted a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement as saying.
“Dai expressed solemnly the Chinese government’s grave concerns and its serious and just position,” the statement said.
According to the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, Niwa repeated Japan’s position that the Chinese fishing boat obstructed the official duties of the Coast Guard while illegally fishing in Japanese territorial waters.
“We have maintained the position that we will solemnly handle the case in strict accordance with domestic law,” the ambassador was quoted as saying.
Niwa called on China to respond to the matter “calmly and carefully” so as not to affect overall bilateral relations, citing the principle of maintaining “strategic relations of mutual benefit,” the embassy said.
Japanese prosecutors alleged that the skipper, Zhan Qixiong, 41, deliberately hit a Japanese patrol boat near the islands Tuesday and obstructed public officers from performing their duties. The crew is also suspected of unlawfully fishing in Japanese territorial waters.
The Senkaku Islands are part of the city of Ishigaki in Okinawa Prefecture. But the islands are claimed by China and Taiwan, known in China as Diaoyu and in Taiwan as Tiaoyutai.
The move on Sunday came a day after China unilaterally postponed talks with Japan aimed at signing a treaty on a joint gas field development in the East China Sea in protest against Tokyo’s handling of the ship collision incident.
The two governments had planned to hold the second round of negotiations on a gas exploration treaty in mid-September in Beijing. The first round of talks was held in late July in Tokyo.
Japanese officials said they do not wish to see the latest row escalate, hoping that it will not affect otherwise improving ties.
In a separate report, Xinhua said Japanese authorities towed the Chinese ship Sunday morning to waters near Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture to recapture the situation when it collided with two Japanese patrol ships last Tuesday.
All the 14 Chinese fishermen were on board, Xinhua said in a dispatch from Tokyo.
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