China-Japan sovereignty row erupts


TENSIONS have been ratcheted up between Asia’s two powerhouses, China and Japan, after a Chinese boat captain was arrested in disputed waters, reviving mutual distrust over sovereignty and undermining efforts to resolve a row about control of valuable undersea energy reserves.

China’s relationship with Japan is often problematic, as resentment about Japan’s behaviour during the period it occupied China, from 1931 to 1945, persists.

Chinese influence in the region is growing, with the country having recently overtaken Japan as the world’s second-largest economy.

The disputed territory centres on islands 190km east of Taiwan,called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. They are controlled by Japan, but also claimed by Taiwan and China.

The diplomatic dispute was sparked last week when Japanese coastguards chased a Chinese trawler which entered waters near the islands, and arrested the captain after the Chinese vessel collided with two Japanese patrol boats. The captain could face prosecution, although the trawler and its 14-member crew have returned to China.

Meanwhile, police are preparing for possible anti-Japan demonstrations on Saturday, the 79th anniversary of the 1931 “Mukden Incident” that led to the Japanese occupation of China’s northeast.

Protesters deny they are gearing up for trouble. Online messages calling for demonstrations appeared to have been deleted from various websites, which could be a sign that Beijing is worried the rallies could get out of hand.

In 2004, there were violent anti-Japan riots over the publication of a history textbook in Japan that the Chinese said minimised atrocities carried out during the 1931- 1945 occupation. Japanese businesses were attacked and Japanese-made products destroyed in the incidents, marking a low point since relations were normalised in 1972.

Tokyo said yesterday that the row should not be tied to talks over undersea gas beds near the islands claimed by both sides.

Beijing postponed talks with Japan on contested undersea deposits in the East China Sea last week because of the incident. The talks would have been the second meeting over gas exploration related to the territorial dispute.