The China Bystander has today posed the question: with its demands for a formal apology from Tokyo and compensation for the Chinese trawler captain detained by the Japanese for over two weeks, has Beijing in fact overplayed its hand? China is continuing to insist that Japan accepts the responsibility for the tensions that have arisen between the two nations in recent weeks- moves that the Japanese government has (according to the BBC) dismissed as “totally groundless”. Following this theme, the People's Daily is placing the ball firmly in the Japanese court, running today with the headline “Japan needs to mend China ties with genuine, practical moves”.
China's apparent determination to press its point home now that Japan has released the trawler captain without charge reflects how quickly the whole affair became a matter of principle rather than practice. However, Beijing's persistence is likely to have a severe adverse effect on its international image. Some observers saw in Japan's decision to release the captain a clear attempt to diffuse the situation with a minimal loss of face. Rather than acknowledging this by letting the dust settle, China has sought to capitalise on Japanese weakness. As a result, it is rapidly losing its image as a 'victim' and gaining a reputation for manipulating diplomatic rifts to its maximum possible advantage.
Therefore, to all intents and purposes, China has indeed overplayed its hand. By stringing the row out, the PRC has undermined its initial objections to Japan's detention of its citizen- namely by showing its motives were more about the politics than the person. Of course, many observers were able to read through the lines of China's appeals for the release of its citizen, and were hardly surprised that the controversy morphed into a debate over sovereignty. Nonetheless, the Chinese government now looks like it is deliberately trying to cause further tension- a fact that will not endear it to its Asian or global counterparts. The long-term harm to China's reputation and standing on the world stage may be great indeed.