Adding to unease in the region, a Chinese maritime court in
Shanghai seized a ship on Saturday owned by Japanese shipping firm
Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, a move that Japan warned could have an adverse
impact on its businesses in China.
The court said the company had failed to pay compensation stemming
from a wartime contractual obligation. China's Foreign Ministry said
the disagreement was a normal commercial dispute.
Japan said the ship seizure, apparently the first time the assets of
a Japanese company have been seized in a lawsuit concerning
compensation for World War Two, was "extremely regrettable".
"It is inevitable that this will have an adverse impact on Japanese
companies in China," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
"We strongly urge the Chinese government to make the proper
The spat over the ship was a "regular business contract dispute",
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, adding that the
government would safeguard the rights of foreign investors.
"This case has nothing to do with compensation from the
Chinese-Japanese war (World War Two)," Qin told a regular news
"Nothing has changed in the Chinese government's position on
adhering to, and defending every principle in, the Sino-Japanese
Joint Statement," he added, referring to an announcement in 1972
that the two countries were establishing official ties.
At the time, Japan also recognized the government in Beijing as the
sole government of China and China gave up claims to Japanese war
"China will continue to protect the interests and rights of foreign
investors in China according to law," Qin said.
The offering by Abe, who visited the shrine in December but did not
go in person this time, was sent just before U.S. President Barack
Obama begins a three-day visit to Japan on Wednesday.
The United States has said it was "disappointed" with Abe's shrine
visit last year, which infuriated Beijing and Seoul.
China protested on April 12 after internal affairs minister
Yoshitaka Shindo visited the shrine, where 14 Japanese leaders
convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal after World War Two
are honored, along with Japan's war dead.
Abe made his latest offering to the shrine as a private individual
so it was not the government's place to comment, Suga, the chief
government spokesman, told a news conference.
"It will not have an impact on the U.S.-Japan leaders meeting," he
Qin, China's foreign ministry spokesman, said Beijing had already
lodged a protest with Tokyo, adding that Abe's move reflected
Japan's "mistaken attitude towards history".
"SLAP IN THE FACE"
China's official Xinhua news agency condemned Abe's offering as a
provocative move that threatened regional stability and was a "slap
in the face of the leader of Japan's closest ally".
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South Korea's Foreign Ministry also responded angrily.
"We deplore the fact that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has romanticized
Japanese colonialism and its war of aggression by paying tribute to
the Yasukuni Shrine," it said in a statement, noting it had happened
despite expressions of concern from the international community.
Abe has said that, like predecessors such as former premier Yasuhiro
Nakasone who visited the shrine, he had high regard for Japan's ties
with China and South Korea, which suffered under Japanese occupation
and colonization in the 20th century.
A group of lawmakers is also expected to visit the shrine during its
spring festival this week.
Several court cases demanding compensation for forced wartime labor
have arisen in China and South Korea. In February, two Japanese
firms were sued in what media said was the first time a Chinese
court had accepted such a case.
A spokesman for Mitsui O.S.K. said the company had been informed of
the seizure order but was still trying to assess what was happening
at the port. It did not confirm that the vessel was in the hands of
The ship, "Baosteel Emotion", is a 226,434 deadweight-ton ore
Despite Tokyo's protest, one analyst said the impact of the seizure
was likely to be limited, and noted that it seemed to be another
case of China putting pressure on Japan, adding it was also unclear
if this represented the policy of China's leaders.
"Companies that are currently involved with such issues will likely
think twice about Chinese businesses, but I believe most Japanese
companies have nothing to do with these problems," said Akio
Takahara, a professor at the University of Tokyo.
"They might take this development as one factor when they think
about investments in China, but I don't think this is a decisive
factor at the moment."
In addition, a senior executive with Toyota Motor Corp said on
Monday the company was considering expanding capacity in China
significantly in its efforts to catch up with global rivals.
Obama's visit to Asia, which kicks off in Japan, will also take him
to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.
(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Tim Kelly and Dominic Lau
in Tokyo, Kahyun Yang in Seoul and Michael Martina in Beijing;
writing by Elaine Lies and Linda Sieg; editing by Paul Tait and
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