TOKYO/BEIJING – China on Saturday demanded Japan apologize for holding a Chinese boat captain, showing few outward signs of softening in a dispute between the two Asian economic powers after Japan gave ground and released him.
The fishing trawler captain, Zhan Qixiong, flew out of Japan on a chartered plane that took him to the coastal Chinese city of Fuzhou.
The release followed the detention of four Japanese nationals on suspicion of violating Chinese law regarding the protection of military facilities, though Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku has denied a link between the two incidents.
China's Foreign Ministry said Beijing was angry at the detention of the captain, arrested by Japan over two weeks ago after his trawler collided with two Japanese patrol boats in waters near islands that both sides claim.
"This was an action that gravely violated Chinese sovereignty and the human rights of a Chinese citizen, and the Chinese government strongly protests," said a ministry statement issued after Zhan flew back to China.
China said its claim to the islands -- which it calls the Diaoyu and Japan calls the Senkaku -- was "indisputable."
"It is unlawful and invalid for Japan to detain and investigate the boat captain and to take any legal measures against him," said the statement said, which was issued on the Ministry's website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
"Japan must offer China an apology and compensation over this incident." It did not specify what compensation it wanted.
China's statement also said, however, that the two countries should solve their disputes through dialogue. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan also said it was time for Asia's two biggest economies to put relations back on a steady footing.
"I believe it is necessary for Japan and China to handle matters calmly," he said in New York, where he attended the U.N. General Assembly.