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Video footage apparently showing a tense maritime incident between China and Japan two months ago was posted on YouTube early Friday, threatening to further inflame a bitter row between the Asian giants.
Japan’s coastguard in early September arrested a Chinese trawler captain for allegedly ramming two of its patrol boats near a disputed island chain in the East China Sea, sparking strong protests from Beijing.
Video footage taken by the coastguard of the incident has so far been shown only to Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan and about 30 lawmakers, but not officially released to the public for fear it would worsen the row.
However, clips claiming to show the incident were posted on the YouTube website overnight, sending Japanese officials scrambling in the morning to contain the damage a week before Japan hosts an Asia-Pacific summit.
The YouTube clip appears to show the blue Chinese fishing boat which was later detained by Japan, marked the Minjinyu 5179, sailing in calm seas parallel to the vessel from which the footage was taken.
The vessel then appears to change course and collides with the starboard side of the grey-hulled Japanese boat as a plume of black smoke is seen billowing from the patrol ship.
Japanese media quoted several unnamed coastguard officers as saying the video footage “is most likely real”, although none said so on the record.
Japan Coast Guard chief Hisayasu Suzuki told parliament merely that “We are investigating the issue of the video on YouTube with the utmost effort now.”
The top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, said that the leak, if confirmed, would be “grave” and added that China had already “made inquiries through diplomatic channels” about the YouTube clips.
China has called the September 8 arrest invalid and illegal.
Both sides claim the potentially resource-rich islets, known as the Diaoyus in China and Senkakus in Japan, as their own. Taiwan also has a claim to the uninhabited rocky outcrops, which are administered by Tokyo.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stepped into the fray last week at a regional summit in Vietnam, telling both sides that Washington was willing to host a trilateral meeting to ease tensions, but Beijing baulked at the notion.
Sengoku — speaking days ahead of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit being held in Yokohama near Tokyo — declined to confirm the authenticity of the video clip but worried about its impact, saying: “I hope a Japan-China summit will be held without being affected”.
He added that the online video, divided into six parts and a total of 44 minutes long, was “a bit different” from the footage he had seen earlier.
The apparent leak of sensitive material by an unknown person — which follows the illicit publication online of classified anti-terrorism police documents only days ago — sparked immediate criticism.
The leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, Mizuho Fukushima, told reporters: “It’s extremely problematic in view of Japan’s risk management that such an important thing, which could dramatically affect the future of Japan and China… was leaked so easily.”
The news came as Asia’s two biggest economies have been seeking to repair ties after their prime ministers, Kan and Wen Jiabao, have failed at two recent summits, in Brussels and Hanoi, to hold formal bilateral talks.
Kyodo News reported that Japan’s Sengoku and visiting former Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan agreed Thursday to make efforts to improve ties. – AFP