Japan frees Chinese fishing crew

The Chinese fishing vessel being led into a Japanese port 8 September 2010The trawler was fishing in waters near islands claimed by both China and Japan

Japanese authorities say they have released 14 crew members of a Chinese fishing trawler seized last week in the East China Sea.

But the captain of the vessel remains in custody following the incident, which happened in disputed waters.

Prosecutors have until 19 September to decide whether to lay formal charges against him.

China has made repeated protests over the incident and warned that it could harm bilateral ties.

"All the people of China condemn the illegal Japanese behaviour in one voice and fully embody the staunch will and determination of the Chinese government and people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity," a foreign ministry statement said on Monday.

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The Chinese fishing boat reportedly rammed Japanese coast guard patrol boats which had been trying to intercept it.

The incident occurred off an island closer to Taiwan than to Japan, and claimed by both Japan and China.


On Sunday Chinese diplomat State Councillor Dai Bingguo warned Tokyo to make a "wise political decision" over the matter.

China has cancelled a series of diplomatic negotiations with Japan over oil and gas fields in the region in protest.

Diaoyu/Senkaku Dispute

  • The group of eight uninhabited islands in the East China Sea lie midway (about 200 nautical miles) between the eastern coast of mainland China and south-west of Japan's Okinawa
  • The islands and Taiwan itself were ceded to Japan by the Manchu emperor in 1895
  • After Japan's defeat in World War II, Taiwan was returned to the Kuomintang government, but not the islands
  • In recent years, as China's economic and military power has built up, Japan has strengthened its presence in the disputed areas and seized or dispelled fishing boats from both China and Taiwan
  • Activists from the Chinese community have made expeditionary trips to Diaoyu Island to assert claims of sovereignty

Chinese officials have also called in Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa for talks four times over the incident - most recently in the early hours of Sunday morning.

"It was regrettable that Ambassador Niwa was summoned at such late hours," Japan's top government spokesman, Yoshito Sengoku, said.

He also criticised Beijing for linking the gas talks with the incident, describing them as "totally separate issues".

The freed crew members are reported to have flown back on a chartered flight to Fuzhou via Naha in Okinawa.

The vessel will also be released and sailed back to China by a substitute crew, Japanese officials said.

The area where the Chinese trawler was seized on Tuesday is close to uninhabited islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.


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