BEIJING – Japan said today it was not officially informed of China’s decision to break off high-level government contacts over the extended detention of a fishing boat captain arrested after a collision near disputed islands.
The rare move pushed already tense relations to a new low and showed China’s willingness to play hardball with its Asian rival on issues of territorial integrity.
The decision late Sunday came a day after anti-Japanese protests were held across China on the anniversary of the start of a Japanese invasion of China in 1931.
The latest spat between Tokyo and Beijing was sparked when the Chinese vessel collided with two Japanese coast guard ships on Sept. 7 near islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries. The crew was released last week, but the captain’s detention for further questioning – pending a decision about whether to press charges – has inflamed ever-present anti-Japanese sentiment in China.
In Tokyo, a Japanese spokesman said Beijing has not officially informed Tokyo of its decision, adding Japan was assessing the situation.
“We call for calm and prudent action by China in order not to further escalate the situation,” said Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesman for Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
The investigation into the Chinese captain’s case is based on Japan’s domestic law and is “not based on any political intent,” he said.
China’s Foreign Ministry said Japan’s refusal to release the boat captain had caused “severe damage” to relations.
A ministry statement said Beijing had suspended ministerial and provincial-level contacts, halted talks on aviation issues and postponed a meeting to discuss coal.