27 September, 2010

Now, Japan Asks China to pay for repairs to the two coast guard ships damaged by the trawler.

Chinese-Japanese tensions over the arrest of a Chinese trawler captain re-escalated on Monday when Japan said it would ask China to pay for repairs to two coast guard ships damaged by the trawler.

The Japanese request was effectively a retort to China’s demand that Japan apologize and offer compensation for the episode, even after Japan had freed the captain last Friday in what was widely seen as a capitulation to placate an increasingly assertive China.

On Sunday, Japan’s prime minister, Naoto Kan, called China’s latest demands “unthinkable,” a sign of his sensitivity to criticism that Japan had shown timidity to Chinese bullying.

“Naturally, we will be asking for the boats to be returned to their original condition,” the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshito Sengoku, told a news conference here on Monday.

The Japanese release of the captain seemed aimed at defusing a heated standoff in which China had imposed economic sanctions and even detained four Japanese.

But the Japanese were clearly surprised when China then said that Tokyo must offer an apology and unspecified compensation over the arrest, which took place almost three weeks ago and aroused deep anger in China.

The demands have forced Mr. Kan to decide once again whether Tokyo will stand up to Beijing, which in recent years has appeared to be testing Japan’s resolve to back its territorial claims in the East China Sea.

In the days leading up to the captain’s release, the Chinese curtailed tourism to Japan, suspended many political and cultural ties, and took unannounced steps to restrict shipments to Japan of rare-earth minerals, which are important components for a range of industrial products.

But the move that Japan found most alarming was the detention in the northern city of Shijiazhuang of the four Japanese citizens, accused of photographing military sites.

The dispute illustrated the difficulty of overcoming nationalistic sentiments stirred up by the trawler episode, which is affecting the deeply intertwined ties between the two neighbors, the world’s second- and third-largest economies, after that of the United States. It also raised concern across Asia about China’s willingness to use its growing economic clout for political gains.

Japanese leaders had sought to minimize the episode, saying that the Chinese captain’s release was a decision made by local prosecutors. Those assertions were met with broad skepticism, with many here holding the view that Japan capitulated to aggressive Chinese pressure.

This has led to growing criticism in Japan that Mr. Kan’s government showed weakness. “It looks like Japan caved in,” said Sadakazu Tanigaki, the head of the largest opposition party, the Liberal Democrats. “That sends the wrong signal to China.”

(From The New York Times)

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