Asia Fun Club: PRC Seizes Japanese Cargo Ship

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 4/22/2014 03:50:00 PM
The Japanese have literally been, ah, Shanghaied.
Us Asians generally have a longer-term perspective than Americans (whose planning horizon is near-zero as evidenced by all sorts of things ranging from the negligible savings of its retirees to the $17.5 trillion plus they will dump on future generations). However, it can go to ridiculous lengths as we bear grudges against each other stretching for decades and decades. The archetypal example is of remembering wartime atrocities committed during Japanese occupations of WWII. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and all that stuff. Just recently, the Japanese Prime Minister paid tributes to the Yasukuni shrine which the Chinese and Koreans are greatly offended by since they believe it contains the remains of war criminals.

So how does China get back at Japan over this and lingering territorial disputes over uninhabited rocks in the East China Sea? Even I was shocked by this: Chinese authorities have detained a Japanese merchant vessel the Baosteel Emotion while making steel deliveries in China over commercial disputes dating before WWII:
The seizure of a Mitsui O.S.K. Lines vessel in China may have consequences for Japanese business activity there, Tokyo warned Monday as officials here pondered the true intention behind the move. Embittered by a territorial row, Japan and China were just starting to seek a rapprochement when the Shanghai Maritime Court said Chinese authorities had impounded the Baosteel Emotion on Saturday.

The iron ore carrier appears to have become a pawn in a dispute stretching back to the 1930s. At the time, a Chinese shipowner chartered two freighters to a Japanese shipping company that later changed names and merged with Mitsui O.S.K. Lines. The vessels were commandeered by the Japanese government and subsequently sank. The owner's relatives sued Mitsui O.S.K. Lines for damages in China and won, with a high court upholding the original verdict in 2010.
The company "was seeking the possibility of out-of-court settlement when the vessel was suddenly impounded" by authorities in Zhejiang Province, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines said in a statement Monday.
Dredging up ancient history is an Asian specialty, but this is ridiculous. What will the effects on trade ties be when a Japanese vessel making routine deliveries can be seized at random over some long-forgotten pre-WWII grievance?
The seizure threatens to "fundamentally undermine the spirit of the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations as laid out in a 1972 joint communique," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

Tokyo maintains that because China renounced its demand for war reparations from Japan, any private claims for war-related damages are void. The Japanese government is calling for an explanation of the ship seizure and, depending on what it hears, may lodge a formal protest.
OTOH, China claims its courts have found against the Japanese shipping concern:
The owners of the shipping company, identified by Kyodo as Zhongwei Shipping, sought compensation after World War Two and the case was reopened at a Shanghai court in 1988, China's Global Times said. The court ruled in 2007 that Mitsui had to pay 190 million yuan ($30.5m, £18m) as compensation for the two ships leased to Daido, a firm later part of Mitsui...
Be that as it may, China's timing is curious, to put it mildly. In one sense it's an idiotic stunt by the Chinese to offset another made by the Japanese. As they say, however, two wrongs do not make a right, and you have to wonder what prospects for regional trade are when its biggest players are so prone to making dumb stunts. It's a tad...immature, really.

UPDATE 1: Thanks to GPS, you can follow the Baosteel Emotion's whereabouts. At of 1600 GMT on April 22 , it's still stuck in Majishan port in Zhejiang province.

UPDATE 2: Mitsui OSK forked over $28M in ransom money to free the ship on April 24.  I guess the shipping line does not have the same resolve as the Japanese government.