China suspends Japan links over growing boat row - UPDATED

The Chinese government has suspended all senior government contacts with Japan, state media said on Sunday.

China suspends Japan links over growing boat row - UPDATED

China suspended high-level exchanges with Japan on Sunday and promised tough countermeasures after a Japanese court extended the detention of a Chinese trawler captain who collided with two Japanese coastguard ships.

The spat between Asia's two largest economies has flared since Japan arrested the captain, accusing him of deliberately striking a patrol ship and obstructing public officers near uninhabited islets in the East China Sea claimed by both sides.

"China demands that Japan immediately release the captain without any preconditions," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement on the ministry's website (www.mfa.gov.cn), repeating that China viewed the detention as illegal and invalid.

"If Japan acts wilfully despite advice to the contrary and insists on making one mistake after another, the Chinese side will take strong countermeasures, and all the consequences should be born by the Japanese side," Ma said.

Japan's decision has "seriously damaged Sino-Japan bilateral exchanges", state television added, reading out a separate response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Japan's decision has "seriously damaged Sino-Japan bilateral exchanges", state television added, reading out a separate response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

China has suspended ministerial and provincial-level bilateral exchanges with Japan, halted talks on increasing flights between the two countries and postponed a meeting about coal with Japan, the report said.

Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that the trawler captain's detention had been extended until Sept. 29. The Japanese court could not be reached for comment.

Sino-Japanese ties have long been plagued by feuds over wartime history and rivalry over territory, resources and military intentions, although they had improved after a chill in 2001-2006, as deep economic ties raise the risk from rows.

Gas field row

Japan urged calm and said the Chinese ship captain's case would be dealt with appropriately according to its domestic laws.

"Regarding individual issues, what is needed it to respond calmly without becoming emotional," said Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesman for the Japanese prime minister's office.

"Japan's basic stance is that we should seek to create cooperative Sino-Japanese ties based on strategic, mutually beneficial relations," he told Reuters by telephone.

The Chinese captain, Zhan Qixiong, has remained in custody after a Japanese court approved for the first time on Sept. 10 an extension of his detention. Prosecutors can hold him for up to a total of 20 days while deciding whether to take legal action.

The latest row over the uninhabited isles -- called the Diaoyu islands in China and the Senkaku islands in Japan -- has stirred mutual distrust over sovereignty and control of potentially valuable oil and gas reserves.

China has repeatedly demanded Japan free the captain and has shown its anger by cancelling planned talks with Japan over natural gas reserves.

On Saturday, about a hundred Chinese protesters in several Chinese cities demanded Japan free the boat captain. Police presence was still heavy at the Japanese embassy in Beijing on Sunday but there were no signs of protests.

The Nikkei business daily reported earlier on Sunday that Japan may start drilling near a gas field in disputed waters of the East China Sea if China does the same.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his foreign minister said Tokyo will take "countervailing steps" if China starts drilling at the Chunxiao gas field to which Beijing recently sent equipment, Nikkei said, adding that Tokyo had looked into possibly taking the case to the international maritime court.

The two countries are at odds over China's exploration for natural gas in the East China Sea, while Beijing is also involved in territorial feuds with Southeast Asian nations in the South China Sea over an area rich in energy and key to shipping.

The Sino-Japanese row centres on where the boundary between the two sides' exclusive maritime economic zones falls. In 2008, the two countries agreed in principle to solve the feud by jointly developing gas fields.

Estimated net known reserves in the disputed fields are a modest 92 million barrels of oil equivalent, but both sides have pursued the issue because there may be larger hidden reserves.


Reuters

Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2010, 11:20
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