Freed captain vows to return to Diaoyus

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 September, 2010, 12:00am

Freed Chinese trawler captain Zhan Qixong was defiant as he arrived home yesterday.

Released by Japanese authorities and back in Fujian , he greeted waiting media with arms outstretched, making the victory sign with both hands and vowing to return to the disputed Diaoyu Islands.

He was first off the plane - sent by Beijing to collect him from Okinawa in Japan - when it landed at Fuzhou Changle International Airport around 4am yesterday.

The fisherman had been detained for 18 days in Japan after his trawler collided with two Japanese coastguard vessels on September 7.

Beijing yesterday demanded an apology and compensation from Tokyo over Zhan's 'unlawful' detention, which triggered a diplomatic storm between the two countries.

But Tokyo was quick to reject the call, showing no sign of giving any further ground in the dispute after releasing Zhan.

In Japan, the decision to free the trawler captain caused a media backlash yesterday.

Influential newspapers were awash with warnings that Tokyo had promoted the idea it would yield to diplomatic pressure by freeing Zhan. The Asahi Shimbun said Tokyo must learn from a 'bitter lesson'.

In Fuzhou, a smiling Zhan was greeted by assistant foreign minister Hu Zhengyue and Fujian's deputy governor, Hong Jiexu .

Then it was the turn of his wife, Chen Tingting, who pressed a bunch of flowers into his hand, and their 13-year-old son. The two had been waiting for several hours at the airport.

Shortly after his plane touched down, Zhan was whisked off for a health check.

A media pack followed him from the airport to Fuzhou's Jinjishan Warm Spring Sanatorium, but he refused to talk to Hong Kong reporters. Instead, he told China Central Television that he was keen to return to the Diaoyus on a fishing trip.

'I don't scare easily. I strongly uphold the Chinese government's standpoint [because] the Diaoyu Islands are part of Chinese [territory]. I will go back there again soon to fish ... It's legal for me to go there fishing. It's them [the Japanese government] that violated the law by detaining me. I didn't break any laws,' he said.

Zhan also thanked the Chinese government and the public for their support while he was in detention.

Meanwhile, villagers and cadres in his hometown of Jinjiang, in Shenhu township, were preparing a hero's welcome for Zhan, with a huge inflatable archway for him to pass through.

His 62-year-old mother said she had regained her appetite when told of her son's return yesterday morning.

'I couldn't sleep last night because I was so excited when my brother told me my son is finally coming home,' she said, adding she had been praying for his release.

But she fully expected he would be off fishing again soon. 'It's his and the whole family's livelihood. There's boats here waiting for him to set sail,' she said.

But first the family has some catching up to do. His elder sister, Zhan Yuehong , was planning a special meal of eggs and noodles - symbolising birth and longevity - to celebrate Zhan's safe return.

'We missed the most important family reunion, Mid-Autumn Festival. And my son also missed his grandmother's funeral last week. I hope to see him as soon as possible,' Zhan's mother said. But they were told yesterday they might have to wait a little longer while Zhan is kept in Fuzhou undergoing health checks.