09/24/2010, 00.00
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Tokyo releases Chinese captain, Beijing arrests four Japanese nationals

Prosecutors order the fisherman’s release out of consideration for Sino-Japanese relations. Four Japanese men are instead of trespassing into a secret military zone. Japan urges restraint, waits for further developments.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japan has released the captain of a Chinese trawler whose arrest had sparked a major diplomatic row with China. Because of the incident, China had threatened retaliations and reduced exchanges. The court’s came after four Japanese nationals were detained in China for allegedly filming a secret military zone. According to media reports, Japanese prosecutors ordered the release out of consideration for the relations between the two countries.

Earlier today, four Japanese nationals employed by the Fujita Corporation were arrested in Shijiazhuang (Hebei) on suspicion of violating Chinese law regarding the protection of military facilities. They were in the city to prepare a bid for a project to dispose of chemical weapons left in China by Japanese forces in the 1930s. They were detained for entering a restricted zone to film military facilities.

In China, breaking secrecy laws is a very serious offence; the authorities can declare anything secret to give themselves the power to prosecute alleged violators. Immediately, Japanese authorities asked to see the four who are held in isolation.

Japan's top government spokesman Yoshito Sengoku said China notified Tokyo last night of the case involving the four men, and that Japan was pursuing the case.

In the other case, the Chinese trawler was fishing in waters near the Senkaku (Diaoyu for China) Islands, whose sovereignty is disputed, when it rammed a Japanese coastguard boat.

For Tokyo, the matter was a simple case of violating the law. Beijing reacted by suspending high-level diplomatic meetings and other joint activities. The Japanese in turn responded by urging the Chinese to avoid rash moves and to consider the consequences the latter might have on their respective economies. China has in fact been Japan's biggest trading partner since last year with bilateral trade reaching 12.6 trillion yen (US$ 147 billion) in the January-June period, a jump of 34.5 per cent over the same time last year.

Japan’s Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda warned that the worsening ties between the two countries would be bad for both economies. Still as much as Japan is not willing to put up with Chinese heavy-handedness, it still thinks that it would be “desirable” for both sides to avoid drawing out the trawler affair.

For many experts, Japan would be the greater loser in a protracted row, at least on the short run. Concerns are also simmering in some quarters that Beijing is holding back shipments of rare earth minerals vital for electronics goods and auto parts over the affair.

China has other unresolved territorial disputes, involving its neighbours in East and Southeast Asia. Some analysts believe that the latest incident was a message to these nations and to the United States who insist that China accept arbitration and use the diplomatic route when in fact Beijing does not want to submit to any outside judgement.

Yesterday in New York Chinese Prime Minister reiterated in fact, “China will never give in or compromise on matters including national sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity”.

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