China calls in Japanese ambassador over boat collision off disputed islands in East China Sea

TOKYO (AP) — Diplomatic tensions between China and Japan escalated Wednesday when Beijing called in Japan's ambassador for a second time after a Chinese fishing boat collided with two Japanese patrol vessels near a chain of disputed islands.

Tokyo has arrested the boat's captain. A Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa was summoned Wednesday to see Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue, who demanded that the Chinese vessel be released immediately. The crew, who do not have passports, are waiting on the boat. Niwa also was summoned Tuesday evening.

But Japanese officials repeated their territorial claims over the islands, adding that they had no immediate plans to release the captain or the boat. Japan has also lodged a protest over the incident to the Chinese side.

The collisions happened in Japanese territorial waters off the northwestern coast of Japan's Kuba island, just north of uninhabited, disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. The islands, about 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of Taiwan, are controlled by Japan but are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Japan Coast Guard officials said Wednesday that the Chinese captain of the fishing boat had been arrested for allegedly obstructing public duties in connection with Tuesday's collision near the chain of islands in the East China Sea.

Coast Guard spokesman Daisuke Takahashi said officials are interrogating the captain. They were also to question the ship's remaining 14 crew members, who are free to return to China, if the Chinese send a vessel to pick them up.

Japanese Foreign Press Secretary Satoru Sato told reporters Wednesday that Japan's territorial ownership of the Senkaku is "the undeniable fact" and that the collision case should be investigated properly under Japan's criminal law.

In Beijing, there was a small, organized protest Wednesday in front of the Japanese Embassy. About 30 people gathered to shout slogans and wave flags. Such events usually happen only with the approval of local police or officials. The group also submitted a letter of protest to the embassy.

Territorial disputes have been a disruptive undercurrent in Japan-China relations, which remain fraught despite attempts to improve them. As the robust Chinese economy's demand for resources grows, China's commercial ships are venturing farther from shore and its more powerful navy is enforcing claims in disputed waters.

Last month, a Chinese survey ship allegedly entered Japan's disputed exclusive economic zone without prior notification, breaking a previous agreement between the two countries. In April, a Chinese helicopter came within 300 feet (90 meters) of a Japanese military monitoring vessel in the vicinity of a Chinese naval exercise.

The collisions occurred after the Japanese patrol vessels ordered the Chinese ship to stop for an inspection for allegedly violating international fishing laws after repeatedly ignoring earlier warnings to leave the area, another Coast Guard spokesman Yosuke Oi said.

No injuries were reported in the two separate collisions that occurred within 40 minutes, Oi said. The two Japanese patrol vessels sustained minor damage. It was unclear whether the Chinese ship was damaged.

Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry, told a regular news conference Tuesday that Beijing has reiterated its claim to the Diaoyu Islands and its adjacent islets and urged Japanese patrol boats in the area not to patrol there.


Associated Press writers Charles Hutzler and Chi-Chi Zhang in Beijing and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.