The Sino-Japanese downward spiral deepens

The claws are well and truly out. Despite Japan’s release of Chinese fisherman Zhan Qixiong on Friday, China was not satisfied. The following day, it promptly demanded an apology and compensation from Japan, which was just as promptly rejected. In an official statement, China’s Foreign Ministry reiterated that it was “unlawful and invalid for Japan to detain, investigate or take any form of judicial measures against the Chinese fishermen and trawler.”

Zhan was also in agreement, affirming that the Diaoyu islands belong to China. “It’s legal that I go there to fish but it’s illegal that they detained me. I did not violate the law,” he said.

Japan, however, said China’s demand was “unacceptable.” It retorted that the Senkaku islands, as they are also known, belong to Japan itself, and Zhan was violating Japanese law by colliding in the disputed islands.

Since Saturday’s diplomatic faux pas on China’s part, which has unnecessarily deepened a quarrel that may otherwise have been able to rest, Japan has toughened its stance on the Middle Kingdom. Firstly, as the WSJ reports, it asked China to pay for the damage caused to the Japanese patrol boats after Zhan’s collision. “The ball is in China’s court,” Yoshito Sengoku, Japan’s chief government spokesman, said at a press conference today. Former Foreign Minister  Katsuya Okada was also quoted as saying, ”everybody knows that China is not a democratic country, but the latest demand will make that explicit.” Later this afternoon, it was also reported that the Japanese government ordered two Chinese fishery patrol boats to move away from the hotly contested waters.

The heat continues to be turned up. Meanwhile, onlookers are wondering who the winner is, if there indeed is one, as Al Jazeera’s Melissa Chan writes:

You wonder what the rest of the countries in Asia are thinking.

Not only did China get its way, everyone else saw it, and saw how it was done, too. You can’t imagine Vietnam, with its own territorial dispute with China, feeling any safer. Or the rest of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). Or South Korea. Or the people of Japan, as they watch their leaders capitulate.

Suddenly, everyone desires a referee in all this. Suddenly, everyone wouldn’t mind too much if the United States were around more often. China might have gotten its way this time, but perhaps at the cost of a more vigilant America.

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