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Japan, China Tensions Rising Over Boat Collision

Diplomatic tensions between China and Japan escalated Wednesday when Beijing called in Japan's ambassador after a Chinese fishing boat collided with two Japanese patrol vessels near a chain of disputed islands and Tokyo arrested the boat's captain.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao summoned Japanese Ambassador Uichiro Niwa and urged Japan to stop the "illegal interception" of Chinese fishing boats, the official Xinhua News Agency reported late Tuesday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku urged that the situation be handled calmly.

"We will handle the matter firmly in accordance with law," he told reporters, according to Kyodo News agency. "It is important that in Japan we not get overly excited."

Japan Coast Guard spokeswoman Akane Yonemori said Wednesday that the 41-year-old Chinese captain of the fishing boat had been arrested for allegedly obstructing public duties in connection with Tuesday's collision near the chain of islands in the East China Sea.

She said the coast guard is investigating the Chinese captain on Ishigaki island, around 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Okinawa. The ship's remaining 14 crew members will also be questioned on board, she said.

No injuries were reported from the two separate collisions that occurred within 40 minutes, Japan Coast Guard spokesman Yosuke Oi said. The two Japanese patrol vessels sustained minor damage. It was unclear if the Chinese ship was damaged.

The collisions happened in Japanese territorial waters off the northwestern coast of Japan's Kuba island, just north of uninhabited, disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. About 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of Taiwan, the islands are controlled by Japan but are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

The collisions occurred after the Japanese patrol vessels ordered the Chinese ship to stop for an inspection over alleged violation of international fishing laws after it repeatedly ignored earlier warnings to exit the area, Oi said.

The Chinese trawler, carrying a crew of 15, first collided with the Japanese patrol boat Yonakuni, slightly damaging its stern. About 40 minutes later, the Chinese fishing boat made a sudden turn and collided into another patrol vessel, the Mizuki, causing a dent on its starboard side and damaging its railings, Oi said.

Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry, told a regular news conference Tuesday that Beijing had been in contact with Japan over the incident and was concerned about the situation.

Jiang said China reiterated its claim to the Diaoyu Islands and its adjacent islets and urged Japanese patrol boats in the area against any "so-called law enforcement activities or any actions that would jeopardize Chinese fishing boats or Chinese people."

"We are keeping a close eye on the developments and reserve the right to make a further response," she said.

Japanese officials do not believe the boat is carrying any activists attempting to make a political statement on the island, Oi said.

Japan has lodged a protest with China several times over the entry of Chinese vessels into waters near the islands. Activists from Hong Kong and Taiwan have also sailed to the islands to make territorial claims.

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