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China-Japan relations sour as fishing boat dispute escalates

China-Japan relations have further deteriorated following China’s decision to cease high-level exchanges with Japan in protest at the extended detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain.

By Correspondent / September 20, 2010

Anti-Japan protesters chant slogans during a rally in Hong Kong on Saturday. China-Japan relations further deteriorated over the weekend after a court in Japan extended the detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain.

Tyrone Siu/Reuters

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Tokyo

Relations between East Asia’s two leading powers have quickly deteriorated following China’s decision to cease high-level exchanges with Japan in protest at the extended detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain.

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Beijing suspended relations between government officials and their Japanese counterparts over the weekend after a court in Japan extended the detention of the captain, Zhan Qixiong, for another 10 days while it considers whether or not to prosecute him. The 14 other members of the crew and their vessel have been released.

China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday that Japan had “seriously damaged Sino-Japan bilateral relations.”

Mr. Zhan was arrested earlier this month after his boat collided with two Japanese coast guard boats in waters near the disputed Senkaku islands in the East China Sea. The uninhabited islands are administered by Japan but claimed by China – where they are known as Diaoyu.

Backdrop of mounting concern

Japan’s investigation into the collision is taking place against a backdrop of mounting concern in Tokyo over China’s military spending and its aggressive drive to secure new energy sources in disputed waters.

The prospects for a swift resolution to the row appeared more distant today after reports that China was preparing to begin drilling at an undersea gas field in another disputed part of the East China Sea, despite a 2008 agreement to jointly explore the area. Aerial photographs taken by Japan's Self-Defense Forces show that China recently transported what appeared to be drilling equipment to the gas field, Japan’s Kyodo News reported.

The Nikkei business newspaper said Japan’s prime minister, Naoto Kan, would consider “countervailing steps” if China began drilling, including the start of unilateral explorations by Japan and taking the case to the International Maritime Court.

China again summoned Japan’s ambassador in Beijing to communicate its anger over Zhan’s detention, and accused Japanese authorities of inflicting “severe damage” to bilateral ties.

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