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Japan, China ties nosedive
An anti-Japan protester near the Japanese embassy in Shanghai on Saturday. (Reuters)

Sept. 19 (Reuters): China suspended high-level exchanges with Japan today and promised tough countermeasures after a Japanese court extended the detention of a Chinese captain whose trawler collided with two Japanese coastguard ships.

The spat between Asia’s two largest economies has flared since Japan arrested the captain, accusing him of deliberately striking a patrol ship and obstructing public officers near uninhabited islets in the East China Sea claimed by both sides.

“China demands that Japan immediately release the captain without any preconditions,” foreign ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement, repeating that Beijing viewed the detention as illegal and invalid.

“If Japan acts wilfully despite advice to the contrary and insists on making one mistake after another, the Chinese side will take strong countermeasures, and all the consequences should be borne by the Japanese side,” Ma said.

Japan’s decision has “seriously damaged Sino-Japanese bilateral exchanges”, Chinese state television added, reading out a separate response from the foreign ministry. China has suspended ministerial and provincial-level bilateral exchanges with Japan, halted talks on increasing flights between the two countries and postponed a meeting about coal with Japan, the report said.

Xinhua news agency added that Chinese vice-foreign minister Wang Guangya had made “solemn representations” to the Japanese ambassador, Uichiro Niwa, and expressed “strong indignation” over the captain’s detention.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that the trawler captain’s detention, which had been due to expire today, had been extended until September 29.

Sino-Japanese ties have long been plagued by feuds over wartime history and rivalry over territory, resources and military intentions, although they had improved after a chill in 2001-2006, as deep economic ties raise the risk from rows.

Japan urged calm and said the captain’s case would be dealt with appropriately according to its domestic laws.

“Regarding individual issues, what is needed is to respond calmly without becoming emotional,” said Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesperson for the Japanese prime minister’s office.

“Japan’s basic stance is that we should seek to create cooperative Sino-Japanese ties based on strategic, mutually beneficial relations,” he said.

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