China-Japan territorial dispute worries Seoul

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China-Japan territorial dispute worries Seoul

China and Japan’s diplomatic dispute over claims in the East China Sea has Korea stuck in the middle, worrying diplomats that the row could torpedo any hope of progress at a tripartite summit at the end of next month.

Troubles between the two Asian economic powerhouses started when a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japanese patrol boats near a set of islands both countries claim as their own in the East China Sea on Sept. 8.

Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated quickly when the Japanese government arrested and detained the captain and his crew of 14. The crew was set free earlier this month, but not before the Chinese government denounced the Japanese government, saying that diplomatic relations were marred because of the decision to arrest those onboard.

The captain was freed yesterday as Japan tried to mend relations. However, analysts have said that the dispute hasn’t subsided completely. A Korean diplomatic official told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday that the two countries should keep their cool and try to solve the conflict, which he deemed “unhelpful” to Korea.

“The Korean government is in a difficult situation as it cannot take sides in this issue regarding sovereignty or mediate the situation,” said the source.

The disputed, uninhabited islands, called Daioyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan, have been subject to regular territorial bickering between the two countries. Chinese records have estimated that the area holds up to 20 million barrels of oil and 495.5 cubic meters (17,500 cubic feet) of natural gas.

Thirty years ago, Japan and China agreed to cooperate on developing the gas fields in the area. But the arrest of the Chinese crew sparked major public outrage in China. Consumers started boycotting Japanese-made goods and Beijing halted exports of rare-earth metals, used in the manufacturing of electronic products, to Japan. China is a world leader in rare-earth metals.

The Korean government hopes the release of the Chinese captain will simmer down the conflict before summit talks among Korea, Japan and China scheduled for next month on the sidelines of the Asean+3 conference.

“The Chinese fishing captain has been freed and the Chinese people are showing self-restraint in their protests,” a government source said. “At this rate there should not be any major problems in time for the summit talks.”


By Christine Kim, Kang Chan-ho [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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