The crisis over Japan’s detention of a Chinese fisherman accused of ramming a Japanese coast guard ship in a remote group of Japanese islands claimed by China has ended with Japan releasing the captain, after China’s threats culminated in the possible execution of 4 Japanese captured as “spies,” but widely considered innocent hostages.
The crisis centres on Chinese incursions into the seas surrounding the Senkaku Islands (or Diaoyu Islands to the Chinese), a small group of uninhabited islands in the seas around Okinawa.
Japan considers the islands part of Okinawa prefecture and well within its Exclusive Economic Zone, whilst Taiwan claims them as its territory and China claims them as both part of Taiwan and as part of its “continental shelf.” Japan and China are both investigating gas reserves in the area.
As a result, the alleged deliberate ramming of a Japanese coast guard ship by a Chinese fishing vessel would constitute a domestic crime under Japanese law, in this case prosecutable as “interfering with an official in pursuit of their duties.”
The ship, captain and crew were subsequently detained pending charges, with the crew and ship later released, leaving the captain alone in Japanese custody. Japanese leaders assured the public it “would be dealt with solely as a possible criminal case.”
Reportedly the entire incident was filmed, but the video was not released as it was considered evidence.
The official reaction from China included severing official ties, unspecified threats of “further action,” a threat to ban exports of rare minerals to Japan and the suggestion that Chinese tourists should not be so eager to visit Japan.
By mysterious coincidence, after threatening “further action” China also arrested 4 Japanese on suspicion of photographing military facilities, announcing its plans to charge them with espionage, which carries a possible death sentence in China. China claims the events are unconnected.
The unofficial reaction from the Chinese people has been indignant, with calls for the immediate execution of the captured “spies,” a full boycott of Japanese goods and, of course, an outright invasion. Large scale protests appear to have been prevented by the authorities however.
Chinese scholars were also recently reported as suggesting Japan’s ownership of the Okinawan islands had no legal basis and that as a former vassal of China the islands should belong to China, a claim which has been made a number of times over the years, including by none other than Mao himself.
The US has officially assured Japan that its alliance would cover any Chinese aggression over the islands, whilst recently signalling a harder stance against China’s increasingly bold behaviour through naval visits to China’s neighbours. India, whose territory China occupies, was also recently reported by Chinese media to be aiming its new generation of nuclear missiles at China.
Despite the assurances, Japan’s craven leadership apparently decided to release the captain rather than upset their prospective masters – local prosecutors announced it was “due to the influence on our people, and out of consideration of Sino-Japanese relations” and “because he has no prior convictions.”
Unsurprisingly, the show of weakness has outraged many in Japan who already regard the current JDP administration as spineless Sinophiles set on making Japan a vassal of China – a conclusion which seems likely to become increasingly widely held.
Whilst a victory for China’s brute-fisted “diplomacy,” Japan’s humiliation seems set to poison relations not only between Japan and China, but also between China and its increasingly distrustful neighbours – many of whom will doubtless be looking to America for help lest they fall prey to China’s many other claims.