China premier threatens Japan with 'further actions' over growing boat dispute

BEIJING (AP) — China's premier has threatened Japan for the first time in a growing fight over disputed islands, saying his country will take "further actions" if Japan does not immediately release a ship captain whose detention has splintered relations between the Asia powers.

Wen Jiabao's comments Tuesday night in New York were the first by a top Chinese leader on the issue that has led Beijing to suspend ministerial-level contacts with Tokyo. China also has said Wen would not meet with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan during U.N. meetings in New York this week.

In comments carried on the website of China's Foreign Ministry, Wen laid the blame for the dispute entirely at Japan's door.

Tokyo "bears full responsibility for the situation, and it will bear all consequences," he said to a gathering of overseas Chinese.

China-Japan relations are at their worst in half a decade, after Japan arrested the Chinese captain of a fishing boat that collided two weeks ago with Japanese coast guard vessels near islands in the East China Sea claimed by both nations. Japan extended his detention Sunday, and China responded by suspending contacts.

Japan made a conciliatory gesture Wednesday morning, but it was not clear whether Japan knew of Wen's comments at the time.

"If possible, it would be good to quickly hold high-level talks, including broad, strategic discussions," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told reporters, saying that the countries should continue to strengthen their ties despite the dispute.

The telephone at China's Foreign Ministry rang unanswered Wednesday, a national holiday in China.

On Tuesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu explained that Wen would not be meeting Japan's Kan in New York because "The atmosphere is obviously not suitable for such a meeting."

Anti-Japanese protests have already flared in numerous locations around China, and the dispute has spilled into cultural ties. Beijing abruptly canceling invitations to 1,000 Japanese youth to the Shanghai expo and the Japanese pop group SMAP has called off a concert in Shanghai.

There also have been calls for boycotts of Japanese products — many of which are actually made in China.

The dispute over the islands, known as Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu or Diaoyutai in Chinese, comes as an increasingly confident China — its economy booming and military expanding — asserts its presence in the region.

Japan, meanwhile, shows no sign of backing down, while warning Chinese of fanning nationalism and urging that the problem be resolved calmly. "We should be careful not to stir up narrow-minded, extreme nationalism," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said Tuesday.

The U.S. also has urged the two sides to work out the matter through appropriate diplomatic means.

The growing dispute faces a test on Sept. 29, the deadline by which Japanese prosecutors must decide whether to charge the Chinese captain. The 14 crew members and boat have been returned.

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Associated Press Writer Jay Alabaster in Tokyo and Christopher Bodeen and Scott McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.

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