China Power

China, Paint, Corner

China has upped the ante in its row with Japan over a detained fishing vessel captain.

Still in the UK (and enjoying some rare sunshine here), but thought it worth updating on the ongoing spat between Japan and China over a detained fishing vessel captain.

China appears to have upped the ante a little more with its highest level intervention yet as Premier Wen Jiabao threatened 'further' action if the Chinese captain is not released immediately by Japanese authorities.

One of the problems for China is that Japan is treating this as a legal, administrative issue that needs to be dealt with through due process. China, however, has made this into a political issue that would require political intervention in the justice system.

According to Channel News Asia, Wen warned: 'If Japan clings to its mistake, China will take further actions, and the Japanese side shall bear all the consequences that arise.' He also urged Japan to 'correct its mistakes to bring relations back on track'.

China has been indignant over the Japanese position, reportedly summoning the Japanese ambassador six times to demand Zhan Qixiong be released, and it has called off a number of official visits and cultural events.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Yet China appears to have unnecessarily put itself in a difficult position in all this. The Japan Coast Guard, which claims two of its vessels were hit by the trawler, perhaps deliberately, says it has evidence to prove at least one of the collisions was intentional. China would have been better advised to wait a little longer, see what evidence is presented and then consider if intervention is appropriate. Of course officials in Beijing argue that the territory that the incident took place in is Chinese territory anyway. Still, a wait and see attitude in disputed waters, especially as Japan has released all other sailors held, would surely have been preferable.

By pre-empting the legal process and not even waiting for the investigation to be completed, Chinese officials risk looking foolish if it does indeed transpire that the Chinese captain was at fault. More importantly, and self-damagingly, the country is painting itself into a corner. Either it will be forced to act on its threats, or it will have to back down. Neither option is appealing.