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Sunday, September 19, 2010

China and Japan Escalate Standoff Over Fishing Captain - NYTimes.com

China and Japan Escalate Standoff Over Fishing Captain - NYTimes.com
TOKYO — What started nearly two weeks ago with the Japanese Coast Guard’s arrest of a Chinese trawler captain in disputed waters has snowballed into a heated diplomatic standoff between China and Japan, highlighting anxieties in Asia about China’s rising power and assertiveness.
The standoff over the arrest, which took place in waters near uninhabited islands claimed by both countries, escalated Sunday as China announced that it had suspended high-level exchanges with Japan, and threatened additional “strong countermeasures,” after Tokyo said it would extend its detention of the captain.
The captain, Zhan Qixiong, 41, was arrested on Sept. 8 after his fishing boat collided with two Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the islands.
The arrest, for obstructing officers on duty, quickly grew from a seemingly minor incident into a highly emotional issue in both countries, where it has become a top news item and has begun to spill over into other aspects of the two nations’ extensive economic and political ties.
Since the arrest, there have been mass cancellations of trips to Japan by Chinese tourists and protests in front of Japanese diplomatic missions and schools in China, as well as tensions over the possibility of drilling for natural gas in contested waters in the East China Sea.
In a statement on Sunday, China’s Foreign Ministry said Japan had “seriously damaged Sino-Japan bilateral relations.” Beijing suspended all relations between provincial and central government officials and their Japanese counterparts, including talks aimed at expanding aviation routes and cooperation on coal.
“We demand the Japanese side immediately release the Chinese captain unconditionally,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu. “If the Japanese side clings obstinately to its course, making mistake upon mistake, then China will take strong countermeasures and Japan will bear all the consequences.”
The situation has also become a test of wills between Japan, the region’s established power and now-fading economic giant, and China, a rising force that feels its time has come to take what it regards as its rightful place in Asia.

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