Japan extends China ship captain detention

A Japanese court on Sunday extended the detention of a Chinese captain of a fishing boat that collided with two Japanese coastguard ships near disputed isles.

Japan extends China ship captain detention

A Japanese court on Sunday extended the detention of a Chinese captain of a fishing boat that collided with two Japanese coastguard ships near disputed isles, prompting Beijing to warn of "strong countermeasures".

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

"China demands that Japan immediately release the captain without any preconditions," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement on the ministry's website (www.mfa.gov.cn) after Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that the detention period had been extended until Sept. 29.

The Japanese court could not be reached for comment.

"If Japan 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 added.

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

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 feud 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.

Gas field row

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: 19 Eylül 2010, 18:13
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