China cancels official's Japan visit amid trawler row

The Chinese fishing vessel being led into a Japanese port 8 September 2010
Image caption The trawler was fishing in waters near islands claimed by both China and Japan

China has postponed a senior official's visit to Japan amid a diplomatic row over the arrest of a Chinese skipper after a collision in disputed waters.

The trawler captain has been held since his ship hit two Japanese patrol boats a week ago near islands in the East China Sea claimed by China and Japan.

The Japanese authorities released the 14 crew members on Monday.

Meanwhile, Japan has turned back a boat of Taiwan activists who sailed to the islands to claim Taiwanese sovereignty.

Their return to Taipei prompted a protest outside the de facto Japanese embassy in Taipei, where demonstrators hurled fish and burned flags.

'Very regrettable'

The vice chair of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Li Jianguo, had been expected to visit Japan at the invitation of the Japanese lower house of parliament.

But Beijing said it was delaying the trip "for various reasons", a Japanese official said.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said the decision was "very regrettable", adding that "in times like these, lawmakers should be able to talk frankly".

Japanese prosecutors have until 19 September to decide whether to lay formal charges against the Chinese captain.

The Chinese fishing boat reportedly rammed Japanese coast guard patrol boats which had been trying to intercept it.

China has made repeated protests over the incident and warned that it could harm bilateral ties and has cancelled a series of diplomatic negotiations with Japan over oil and gas fields in the region in protest.

The area where the Chinese trawler was seized a week ago is close to uninhabited islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.

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