Japan Releases Captain After China Stops Rare Earth Metal Exports

Japan Releases Captain After China Stops Rare Earth Metal Exports

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 China has suddenly prohibited the exports of rare earth metals to Japan, according to Japanese political observers.

Rare earth metals are a key raw material for high-tech electronic products, such as computer hardware and cell phones. China’s action could paralyze Japan’s most important industry — electronics manufacturing.

China’s action probably forced Japan to soften on its hard-line stance enough for Japanese authorities to cease the country’s questionable detention of Chinese fishing boat Captain, Zhan Qixiong, and release him.

Zhan boarded an early morning flight back home on September 25.

Japanese media reports say Zhan’s release was a response to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s unyielding attitude in his call for release. Another factor was China’s recent capture of four Japanese nationals suspected of entering and filming in China’s military zone illegally.

Prosecutors in Naha, Okinawa, held a press conference September 24, announcing Zhan would be released, but they reserved “the right for future punishment.”

Zhan was in custody for over two weeks and accused of “obstructing public enforcement.” The prosecutors explained the decision was made after discussions with Japan’s highest-ranking prosecution team and “considering the impact on the people of our country, as well as on Japan-China relations in the future."

Naha’s prosecution team claimed Zhan had “obvious intention” to ram his boat into Japanese Coast Guard vessels. But the prosecutors said, “It was a behavior of the moment; it was not premeditated.”

A spokesperson at Japan’s Foreign Affairs Department told Asian Weekly that the department had received a notice from the judiciary shortly before Zhan was released and acknowledged the prosecutors’ decision.

Asked about the damage the incident may have cause to Japan-China relations, the spokesperson said everyone from Japan’s Prime Minster Naoto Kan to foreign ministry officials believed it was an exceptional incident. He added that Japan hopes the event would not affect Japan and China’s mutually beneficial relationship.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said China would send a charter flight to bring Zhan home. But the official stated that every procedure Japan used in detaining the Chinese boat captain was “illegal and invalid."

Translated by Vivian Po.