Chinese and Japanese leaders are not planning any talks next week on the sidelines of the UN general Assembly partly because of escalating tension over a collision near disputed southern islets, the top Japanese government spokesman said Thursday.
Meanwhile, Japan’s embassy and consulates in China issued a warning to its citizens in the country to watch their words and actions so as not to provoke Chinese after nationalistic protests amid reports of vandalism at a Japanese school.
The diplomatic spat broke out last week when Japanese authorities arrested the captain of a Chinese fishing boat after it collided with two Japanese patrol boats near islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries.
The 14 crew members and the trawler have returned to China. But the captain remains in Japanese custody and could face prosecution for obstructing the coast guards’ public duties _ triggering harsh criticism from Beijing.
Beijing has said the confrontation could damage its relations with Japan and has summoned Ambassador Uichiro Niwa five times, underlining the sensitivity of the territorial dispute. The incident has also led to protests in Taiwan, which also claims the islands, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, which are located 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of Taiwan.
Last week, in a sign of its anger, Beijing postponed talks with Japan on contested undersea deposits in the East China Sea. The talks would have been the second meeting over gas exploration related to the territorial dispute.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told a regular news conference that neither Tokyo nor Beijing is seeking to arrange talks for the two leaders during their visit in New York next week to attend the UN meeting.
Kan’s predecessor had met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at last year’s general Assembly, and leaders of the two nations usually meet at international gatherings. So while it was assumed Kan and Wen would meet, nothing had been set.
“At the moment, nothing has been decided, as neither side is making a move to set up (a meeting),” Sengoku said. He cited “the problem involving the Senkaku,” as part of the reason why both sides are not arranging talks. He also cited scheduling conflicts on both sides.
The diplomatic tit-for-tat threatens the wary rapprochement the two governments have forged in recent years after decades of hostility and enmity from Japan’s World War II-era aggression. Saturday marks the anniversary of the 1931 “Mukden Incident” that led to the Japanese occupation of China’s northeast, and the date has in the past been marked by anti-Japanese protests in China.
The Japanese Embassy advisory to citizens in China specifically warned about the date. “Watch your words and behavior when you have contact with the Chinese people,” the embassy said in a safety notice posted on its website. “Refrain from making a scene in a Japanese-only group or other provocative acts.”
Beijing is also worried that nationalist sentiments may give way to protests beyond the government’s control and on Thursday tried to avoid inflaming public passions. At a media briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters played down the likelihood of protests, saying that the government was confident that “the Chinese public will express themselves in a rational and legitimate way.”
She repeated Beijing’s demand for the captain’s release. At one point, Jiang called the captain’s continued detention “the most prominent obstacle in China-Japan relations.” Later, the Foreign Ministry afterward requested that foreign news organisations not use the quote “most prominent obstacle.”
Meanwhile, Japan stepped up its presence over the disputed islets, with Transport minister Seiji Maehara inspecting patrol boats on Ishigaki, a Japanese island near the disputed islets, on Thursday.