Japan to Release Chinese Trawler Captain Involved in Boat Collision
Japan to Release Chinese Trawler Captain Involved in Boat Collision

Hong Kong police have stopped activists from sailing to disputed islands in the East China Sea in an action that was liable to inflame a diplomatic spat between China and Japan.

Three activists and four crewmen were on the fishing boat Kai Fung No. 2 when it set out for the island chain known in China as Diaoyu and in Japan as Senkaku.

But participants told reporters Wednesday they were stopped by police vessels before they could leave Hong Kong's territorial waters.  The protesters said they have the right to go fishing anywhere, but authorities said the boat was not licensed to carry passengers outside of Hong Kong.

Relations between China and Japan have sunk to their lowest point in years after Japanese authorities arrested the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that collided with two Japanese patrol boats near the disputed islands two weeks ago.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly opening, has said Japan will face serious consequences and that Beijing will "take further actions" if the captain is not freed.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told reporters in Tokyo Wednesday the government there is willing to hold "high-level talks" with China on the matter.  

China has canceled a number of high-level diplomatic exchanges since the incident, including a planned meeting between Mr. Wen and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the sidelines of this week's United Nations conference.  

The disputed islands are uninhabited, but are rich fishing territory and believed to hold undersea natural gas and oil reserves.

Japanese authorities have until September 29 to decide whether to file charges against the captain of the Chinese fishing vessel.  The ship's 14 crew members were released last week.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.