* Fourth Japanese still in custody in China
* China urges Japan stop "irresponsible statements"
* Latest spat triggered by collision in disputed seas
* Disputed seas potentially rich in gas resources
(Adds Chinese Foreign Ministry, Chinese national also
By Chris Buckley and Chisa Fujioka
BEIJING/TOKYO, Sept 30 China released three
Japanese citizens on Thursday whose detention had added to
tensions between Asia's two top economies, but a fourth remains
in custody in a sign that the row is not yet over.
Tokyo and Beijing have been in a bitter feud since Japan
detained a Chinese fishing boat skipper whose trawler collided
this month with two Japan Coast Guard ships near uninhabited
islands in the East China Sea that both sides claim.
Japanese prosecutors released the skipper late last week,
but both sides have demanded compensation over the collision.
For more stories on Japan-China tensions [ID:nSGE68Q04R]
For factbox on China-Japan ties: [ID:nTOE68J014]
For factbox on frictions with China: [ID:nSGE68N028]
Map of the disputed islands link.reuters.com/dyv92p
Graphic on the two economies: link.reuters.com/tup64p
The release of three of the Japanese employees of
construction firm Fujita Corp, held on suspicion of entering a
restricted military zone, comes amid signs that Beijing and
Tokyo are moving past the most vehement phase of their latest
But Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara demanded the
remaining Japanese being held be released quickly and for China
to explain the reasons behind their detention. [ID:nTKX007015]
"What's most important is that one of them hasn't been
released yet," Maehara told reporters. "We will strongly urge
that he be released soon."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a
regular briefing that China did not want the on-going
diplomatic spat with Japan to deteriorate further -- but also
called on Tokyo to stop making "irresponsible statements".
"We hope that Japan will proceed from the fundamental
interests of both countries peoples and stop issuing
irresponsible statements, and take practical actions to protect
broader development of China-Japan relations," she said.
Jiang said China's statements had "both demonstrated our
determination to defend national territorial sovereignty and
also our sincerity in developing China-Japan relations".
The Fujita employees were detained in northern China's
Hebei province last week while Beijing and Tokyo were embroiled
in the row sparked by Japan's detention of the Chinese boat
They were in China for a project to dispose of chemical
weapons abandoned by the Japanese military at the end of World
War Two. A Chinese national and fellow employee detained with
them at the same time has also been released. [ID:nTOE68T03G]
Jiang said the case of the still-detained Japanese national
awaited further investigation. She did not elaborate.
The tensions have underscored the fragility of a
relationship long troubled by bitter Chinese attitudes towards
Japan's wartime occupation as well as by present-day mistrust
as China edges past Japan as the world's second-biggest
The roots of the trawler dispute lie in a long-standing
disagreement about sovereignty over parts of the East China
Sea, which has potentially rich natural gas resources.
Fishery patrol boats from both sides have remained in
waters near the disputed islands, called Diaoyu by China and
Senkaku by Japan, although an expert said passions seemed to be
subsiding in the bilateral feud.
"It looks like the Chinese side is letting the heat out of
the argument," said Phil Deans, a professor of international
affairs at Temple University's Japan Campus.
"It's not going to go away. It's very easy to reignite ...
There is still a dispute (over the islands) and there are some
very passionate figures on both sides that don't want a good
Japan and China have a long-running disagreement over
China's exploration for natural gas in the disputed waters in
the East China Sea, although in 2008 they agreed in principle
to solve the argument by jointly developing the gas fields.
Japan's ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa, has told China
not to unilaterally develop a gas field in the disputed area,
Kyodo news agency reported on Thursday.
China has cancelled diplomatic meetings and student visits
in protest at the trawler captain's detention, although Kyodo
said Japan's defence minister may seek talks with his Chinese
counterpart in Vietnam next month in a bid to repair ties.
Industry sources have cited concerns that Beijing was
apparently holding back shipments to Japan of rare earth
minerals vital for electronics and auto parts, but a Japanese
trading firm source has said China ended its de facto ban on
the exports. [ID:nTOE68S07W]
(Additional reporting by Yoko Nishikawa, Linda Sieg and
Kiyoshi Takenaka in Toyko and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing
by Alex Richardson)