Tokyo Notes

Boat Crash on YouTube

Footage shows the Chinese fishing boat ramming into Japanese vessels, putting the onus now on Tokyo to respond.

It was inevitable. All the squabbling over whether the government should release a video of the now-infamous September collision between a Chinese trawler and Japanese patrol vessels near the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands was in vain. Footage has found its way onto YouTube.

Shot from the Japan Coast Guard’s Mizuki vessel, the clip shows the Chinese ship's crewmembers standing nonchalantly aboard a blue fishing boat as it appears to make a deliberate sharp turn into the Mizuki (despite warnings in Japanese and Chinese to stop), causing black smoke to billow from the patrol vessel. The Chinese boat then goes on to ram a second Japanese ship.

If the government confirms this to be the footage Diet members saw earlier this week, then lawmakers were justified in asserting it was an intentional act of provocation.

The Japanese government had earlier refused to make the video public on the grounds that the criminal code prohibits the release of investigation materials before a trial (the Chinese skipper is still technically under arrest and prosecutors haven’t decided whether to indict him—although this option is improbable). Also, by withholding the footage, Tokyo managed to avoid making a decision that could once again upset the diplomatic applecart.

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But now that the footage is, perhaps unintentionally, in the public realm, the government will have to respond. As will Beijing.

Perhaps Tokyo’s best approach would be to publicly criticize the trawler captain’s action, but refrain from making an official protest to Beijing. Prime Minister Naoto Kan or a Cabinet member could then meet with Chinese counterparts on the sidelines of one of the upcoming talking shops (the G20 summit in South Korea or the APEC meeting in Yokohama—both next week), and make an off-the-record request to Beijing to deal with the skipper internally.

Also worrying for the Japanese government is how this footage was made public despite being placed under wraps. This is of particular concern in light of a Japanese police probe into a potential major leak recently of sensitive materials related to anti-terrorism operations.