China Power

China Fishing for Outrage?

The detention of Zhan Qixiong after a run-in near the Senkaku Islands has outraged Beijing.

I’ve written before about China’s ‘inconsistency’ in its approach to foreign policy (actually, I unkindly said hypocrisy). So I’d have to say I broadly agree with Paul Jackson’s take over on Tokyo Notes on the situation unfolding over the detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain by Japanese authorities.

According to news reports, a Chinese fishing ship on Tuesday rammed two Japanese patrol boats near the disputed Senkaku Islands after the Chinese ship’s captain refused to allow his vessel to be inspected or to leave the sea around the islands. He then, it seems, decided to crash into the two Japan Coast Guard ships issuing the orders.

The arrest of Zhan Qixiong has, however, sparked demonstrations in Beijing by protestors who, as Paul says, ‘cannot understand why a fisherman in Chinese waters (from China’s perspective) should be held by the Japanese.’

And the inconsistency I hinted at? Well, last summer saw a comparable example, with Vietnamese fishermen eventually being released after being detained by China for supposedly violating China’s territorial waters (this policy of unilaterally declaring waters its own and off-limits is an ongoing sore spot between these two countries—and indeed with some of China’s other neighbours). The Vietnamese government for its part said the fishermen were operating in Vietnamese waters. The clearest difference (so far) between Zhan’s case and last year’s is that back then it was 25 Vietnamese fishermen that were held—and they were detained for months.

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In this latest incident, China has reportedly twice summoned the Japanese ambassador to demand the captain’s release and has warned of diplomatic consequences if the incident is not handled ‘properly.’

It would be nice if the Chinese government didn’t quite so often make itself look as if it is looking for an excuse to be outraged. And, According to RTT News, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman ‘called for the unconditional release of the trawler and its crew,’ terming the seizure ‘absurd, illegal and invalid and which China will never accept.’

RTT goes on to say that she added that a ‘law-enforcement’ ship had been sent to the area to ‘protect the safety’ of Chinese fishermen in the area.

Perhaps it might also do well to keep tabs on its own vessels’ behavior?