Diaoyu Islands

Man arrested for ripping flag from Japanese ambassador's car

Police accuse suspect of ripping Japanese flag from ambassador's vehicle in Beijing, as sides seek to ease tensions over territorial dispute

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2012, 8:11am

A man suspected of ripping a Japanese flag from a car carrying Japanese ambassador Uichiro Niwa was arrested by Beijing police yesterday, as both countries sought to ease tensions over the disputed Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan.

The arrest came as Japan's senior vice-minister of foreign affairs, Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, was in Beijing to arrange meetings with his Chinese counterparts.

The Public Security Bureau in Beijing informally confirmed the arrest and detention of the suspect in a private message to Japanese embassy staff, the Asahi Shimbun reported yesterday, citing diplomatic sources.

The report said Monday's incident remained under investigation.

A spokesman for the embassy said it had not received any formal notification about the arrest from Beijing authorities.

Sino-Japanese ties have cooled in recent months after Tokyo's city government announced it was considering buying the disputed islands. Public pressure for Beijing to take a tougher stand on the dispute is running high.

Speaking at a seminar in Beijing yesterday celebrating the 40th anniversary of the re-establishment of Sino-Japanese ties, former state councillor Tang Jiaxuan said Monday's incident would harm China's interests instead of increasing patriotic sentiment.

Niwa, attending the seminar, did not comment on Monday's incident or the territorial dispute but did say that continuing friendship and co-operation was the only way forward for the two countries.

In another move being seen as an attempt to ease bilateral tensions, officials from both countries are arranging a meeting between Yamaguchi and his Chinese counterparts so that he can deliver a letter from Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to President Hu Jintao .

The letter calls for the development of bilateral ties in a stable manner. The Japanese embassy said Yamaguchi's itinerary had not been finalised, but observers said he might meet Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi today.

The Sino-Japanese dispute over the islands in the East China Sea, as well as Beijing's territorial disputes with its Southeast Asian neighbours, will also be on the agenda of US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as she begins an Asian trip tomorrow that will include a visit to China next Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We don't want to see the disputes in the South China Sea, or anywhere else, settled by intimidation, by force," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, adding that Washington wanted the dispute solved through negotiations.

Nuland referred to the islands as the Senkakus and said the dispute fell under the scope of a treaty signed between Tokyo and Washington decades ago, raising concerns in China.

"The US is taking advantage of the dispute, as it will make Japan more inclined to Washington," said Su Hao, a professor of international relations at the China Foreign Affairs University.

Jia Qingguo , who teaches international relations at Peking University, said the US was caught in a dilemma.

"The US would be embarrassed if it did not provide strong backing to Tokyo, which regards the US as an ally. But supporting Tokyo will upset China," he said.