Japan relents, to release Chinese fishing vessel captain

Chinese government will send a chartered plane to bring back the trawler captain "illegally" detained by Japan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said here today.

She was reacting to reports that Japan had decided to free the captain, Zhan Qixiong. "I reiterate that any form of the so-called judicial procedures taken by Japan against the Chinese captain is illegal and invalid," Jiang said.

The announcement of the captain's release came after China announced last night that it had detained four Japanese for allegedly taking video pictures of a military base.
Reports from Tokyo said they were the employees of the Japanese urban redevelopment company Fujita Corp. They were in China as part of a project to dispose off chemical weapons abandoned by Japanese military in China at the end of World War II.

Day before their detention, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had warned that Japan should release the captain unconditionally or face "further actions". "If Japan clings to its mistake, China will take further actions, and the Japanese side shall bear all the consequences that arise," Wen said in New York.

Following this, a top Japanese official had called for high-level talks but China rejected the idea, asserting that it has sovereign right over the island and the Captain's detention was 'illegal'. Zhan was detained on Sept 7 off the disputed Diaoyu Islands, which is under the administrative control of Japan, but over which China and Taiwan also claim territorial rights.

The skipper was taken along with the 14-member crew of the vessel, to Okinawa island where he was charged under local law ignoring protests from China, which questioned the right of Japan to arrest him.

Japan released the 14-member crew and the trawler but not the captain, whose detention was extended till Sept 19. But prosecutors now said that the detention had deepened the rift between Beijing and Tokyo and "it would not be worth continuing detaining and investigating the captain".

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