Japan warns against 'extreme nationalism' in row with China

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan, mired in its worst standoff with China in years, warned Tuesday that all sides must avoid "extreme nationalism" and stressed the wider region's need for Asia's two biggest powers to get along.

China has denounced the arrest of a Chinese trawler captain two weeks ago by Japan's coastguard, summoned Tokyo's ambassador six times, and called off several official visits and planned negotiations.

On the cultural front, China has now cancelled an invitation to about 1,000 Japanese youths to the World Expo in Shanghai, and ticket sales have abruptly stopped for two concerts at the Expo next month by Japanese pop band SMAP.

"What is more important than anything is that government officials in charge should be careful not to arouse narrow-minded, extreme nationalism in Japan, China and other countries," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said.

On Saturday, small groups of anti-Japan demonstrators protested in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, on the anniversary of Japan's 1931 invasion of Manchuria.

Striking a conciliatory tone, Sengoku stressed that a healthy relationship between China and Japan, Asia's two biggest economies, was indispensable for regional growth.

"We want to use all possible channels not to escalate the issue and to solve it for the sake of development in East Asia and the Asia-Pacific region," Japan's top government spokesman told a regular news conference.

In a similar vein, Japan's Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said: "We must not escalate this emotionally. We should stay cool-headed, not let this issue influence economic relations."

The flare-up started with the September 7 collisions of a Chinese fishing trawler and two Japanese coastguard vessels near a disputed island chain that lies in rich fishing grounds and near possible oil and gas fields.

Japan arrested the captain, Zhan Qixiong, 41, early the next day, citing its domestic law. On Sunday a court extended his detention until September 29, when he must be either indicted or released.

Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara on Sunday described the collisions as "gu-hatsuteki", a Japanese word which can be translated as incidental or unforeseen -- softer language than had been used before.

China has slammed the arrest as "illegal", and the dispute has highlighted broader tensions over the disputed island chain in the East China Sea, as a newly assertive Beijing flexes its diplomatic muscles.

China on Sunday threatened Japan with "strong counter-measures" after the boat captain's detention was extended.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao are both due at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York this week, but have no plans for direct talks, officials have said.

The two leaders are due to meet separately with US President Barack Obama, whose government has called on China and Japan to resolve the issue through dialogue.

US Vice President Joe Biden on Monday sent a warm message to long-time ally Japan, stressing that Washington's ties with Tokyo were at the centre of US foreign policy in Asia.

"There is an emerging relationship that we have to get right between the United States and China... frankly, I don't know how that relationship can be made right other than going through Tokyo," Biden said.

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said the flare-up was "unfortunate" in light of efforts by China and Japan to repair relations in recent years.

"Good relations between China and Japan are in our interest. It's in the interest of everybody else in the region," he said.

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