Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fisherman's Arrest in Asia: China and Japan Must Not Trawl for Trouble

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fisherman's Arrest in Asia: China and Japan Must Not Trawl for Trouble

Article excerpt

Japan's arrest of a Chinese fishing captain in disputed waters reveals sharp tensions over regional dominance. The incident requires a calm resolution.

Half of humanity lives in Asia, which makes it troubling when an incident triggers tensions over which nation will dominate the region in the 21st century.

Right now that tension is focused on Zhan Qixiong, the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel captured by Japan on Sept 7. Just how and when he is released will be a clue as to whether Asia will enjoy a peaceful future.

Mr. Zhan and his crew of 14 were arrested after fishing too close to a set of islands claimed by both China and Japan. The crew has since been released, but the captain is charged in Japanese court with ramming a Coast Guard vessel.

He is a pawn in a test of wills between China and Japan (and by proxy, the United States) over who will call the shots in Asia. With its burgeoning economy and Navy, China seeks to displace the US as the longtime guardian of Asia's peace - and to keep Japan in line as well.

The contest has so far come in many venues - trade deals, territorial claims, and encounters on the high seas. But Zhan's detention has evoked strong emotions, revealing a China more eager to assert itself and a Japan more willing to stand up to its giant neighbor.

Japan treated the arrest of the fishing trawler as a domestic legal case, which particularly irked Beijing. Tokyo may feel emboldened because its chief ally, the US, has shown a new willingness to confront China's belligerent actions toward other Asian nations. The Obama administration recently sent more naval ships to the region while also openly siding with many Southeast Asian nations in their confrontation with Beijing over claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Japan's control of the uninhabited islands it calls Senkaku (and which China calls Diaoyu) has long irritated the Chinese. The dispute is a legacy of Japan's invasion of China in the 1930s. That history colors the current responses and is one reason that calm is needed to resolve the issue. …

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