China-Japan 'ship collision video' leaked on YouTube

TOKYO, November  5, 2010 (AFP) - A video apparently capturing a collision between vessels from China and Japan which sparked an ongoing diplomatic row was posted on YouTube Friday, prompting Beijing to express concern, Tokyo's foreign minister said.

The Japanese coastguard arrested a Chinese trawler captain two months ago for allegedly ramming two of its patrol boats near a disputed island chain in the East China Sea, sparking a barrage of protests from Beijing.

Video footage of the incident taken by the coastguard had so far been shown only to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, security officials and some lawmakers, but not released to the public for fear it would worsen the spat.

"I have a strong sense of crisis because our information management is not in shape," Kan told reporters. "It is important for both countries to respond calmly even if such a problem arises."

China has called the captain's September 8 arrest invalid and illegal and launched strong protests which continued after Japan released the captain, plunging the two Asian economic giants into their worst row in years.

Early on Friday, 44 minutes of footage purporting to show the incident were posted on the YouTube website, sending Japanese officials scrambling to contain the damage, a week before Japan hosts an Asia-Pacific summit.

Japanese television stations throughout the day showed the clips, assuming them to be authentic, although no officials have confirmed this on the record.

The YouTube clip appears to show the blue Chinese boat which was later detained by Japan, marked the Minjinyu 5179, colliding with the grey-hulled Japanese boat as a plume of black smoke is seen billowing from the patrol ship.

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told a media briefing: "I think it probably was taken by the coastguard. That is how I feel after seeing the footage."

He said the Chinese embassy in Tokyo had called Japan's foreign ministry to check into the leak, and that China later had "expressed concern and conveyed worry in Tokyo and Beijing through diplomatic channels".

The incident was sensitive because both sides claim the potentially resource-rich islets, known as the Diaoyus in China and Senkakus in Japan, and the nearby seas where the incidents took place, as their own, as does Taiwan.

The apparent anonymous leak follows the illicit publication online only days ago of classified anti-terrorism documents and sparked immediate criticism from Japan.

Social Democrats leader Mizuho Fukushima said: "It's extremely problematic in view of Japan's risk management that such an important thing, which could dramatically affect the future of Japan and China... was leaked so easily."

Maehara said that "if coastguard videos have been leaked, it represents a case in which government documents were leaked in spite of public servants' obligation to keep secrets. This would be a criminal case."

Tokyo's outspoken conservative governor Shintaro Ishihara, however, praised the apparent leak as strengthening Japan's position in the row.

"I guess it is a case of whistle-blowing," he said. "It was leaked so as to let the people see the reality. Isn't that a welcome thing?"

The YouTube videos came as Asia's two biggest economies are seeking to repair ties after their prime ministers, Kan and Wen Jiabao, failed at two recent summits, in Brussels and Hanoi, to hold formal bilateral talks.

World leaders, including those of Japan and China, will next week meet for a G20 summit in South Korea and then an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit being held in Yokohama near Tokyo.