A post on the website 'China Bystander' yesterday provided a neat summary of the severity of the threat that the ongoing row between China and Japan poses for long-term relations between the two countries (for the context of the problems, see this earlier Sino-Gist post). A headline from today's English edition of the People's Daily online suggests that Chinese patience may be starting to wear very thin. The site's decision to run with the choice of "Beijing demands immediate return of captain" is by far the most strongly worded media expression of Chinese dissatisfaction with the whole affair. Whereas previous stories concentrated on the repeated summoning of the Japanese ambassador in China to Beijing, and on the unsurprisingly hostile (and in many ways routine) denunciations of Japan's actions by various government officials, the use of the word 'demands' implies a new level of Chinese anger over the detention of one of its citizens. Rather than continuing to argue the historic right of the PRC to the islands in the East China Sea, by demanding the return of the Chinese trawler captain China has closed the discussion entirely.
The People's Daily paraphrased the Foreign Ministry in Beijing as saying that the controversy has now "caused a serious situation in bilateral relations", an assessment that accords with the breakdown in dialogue between the two countries suggested above. There is no way of knowing what Japan will choose to do when it has to make a verdict about the captain's fate on the 19th September. But with China now so committed to defending his cause, a Japanese decision to prosecute might prompt the PRC to take matters more into its own hands.