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China-Japan: Update. Last week the Japanese court released the 14 Chinese crew members of the fishing boat that rammed Japanese coastal patrol ships. However, the Court also approved a 10-day extension of the captain’s detention for further question, pending a decision whether to press charges.

In response, on 19 September China’s Foreign Ministry said Japan’s refusal to release the boat captain had caused “severe damage” to relations. The Ministry announced a suspension of ministerial and provincial-level contacts, halted talks on aviation issues and postponed a meeting to discuss coal.

“If Japan acts willfully, making mistake after mistake, China will take strong countermeasures, and all the consequences will be borne by the Japanese side,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a separate statement

The office of the Japanese Prime Minister said that China’s decision to break off high-level government contacts was not expressed officially. It is “truly regrettable” if China did make such a decision, the spokesman said, adding that Japan calls for calm and prudent action by China not to further escalate the situation.

Comment: Chinese crisis managers have bungled this situation badly. They have committed China to back the actions of a fishing boat captain and escalated it into an international strategic confrontation in which China’s position is not strong. In other words, China is letting the tail wag the dog.

Should the actions of the Chinese boat captain prove to be local and blameworthy under Japanese law, there would seem to be no justification for escalating the situation into an international confrontation.

On the other hand, if the captain acted under State orders, China deliberately is provoking Japan so as to assert dominance in the fishing boat confrontation and in northeast Asia, by extension. The Japanese will not back down to the Chinese. (Link)

This blog concurs. Also, in demanding that the Chinese ship captain is released before the Japanese have finished their investigation, China is essentially telling the world that the will of China essentially supersedes laws in other countries, and that Chinese citizens can do what they please. If China thinks it is somehow going to come out of this with enhanced status in the international community, it couldn’t be more mistaken. I predict 2011 is going to see the first real increase in Japanese defense spending in about twenty years.

It’s also worth saying again: the South Korean fishing trawler the North seized in August and held for a month had three Chinese crew members, and I don’t recall China summoning the North Korean ambassador at midnight, severing high-level contacts with the North Korean government, or canceling an apolitical field trip for a thousand North Korean school children.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch