China pushed its demand for an apology from Japan for detaining a Chinese fishing trawler captain, showing no sign of an end to the row after Japan released the captain and said no apology was necessary.
The dispute illustrates the fragility of ties between Asia's two biggest economies troubled by Chinese memories of Japanese wartime occupation and territorial disputes over parts of the East China Sea that could hold rich reserves of gas.
Tokyo came under criticism from domestic media for ``caving in'' to Chinese pressure by releasing the captain after China detained four Japanese citizens, although Japanese officials have denied the linkage.
The four were detained on suspicion of violating the law regarding protection of Chinese military facilities, though the exact offence was not clear.
Fishing trawler captain Zhan Qixiong arrived back in China on Saturday after his boat collided with Japanese patrol ships on Sept 7 near disputed islets, known as the Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. His trawler and crew had earlier been released.
China demanded an apology and compensation, a request Japan said on Saturday was ``groundless''.
``Japan's actions have severely infringed upon China's territorial sovereignty and the personal rights and interests of a Chinese citizen, so of course China has the right to demand an apology and compensation from Japan,'' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in remarks posted on the ministry's website late on Saturday.
Japan's former foreign minister said international perceptions of China would be hurt by its refusal to back down.
``It was our territory and there was no fault in arresting him in accordance with the law,'' Katsuya Okada, secretary-general of the ruling Democratic Party and foreign minister until a Sept. 17 cabinet reshuffle, told public broadcaster NHK on Saturday.
``There have been views that this affair was a complete defeat for Japan, but this was a loss for China. China showed the world what kind of a country it is.''
Okada again said Japan could not accept the demand for an apology and compensation.
Freed captain Zhan told China Central Television he was eager to return for more fishing near the islands.
BEIJING - China broke off high-level government contacts with Japan over the extended detention of a fishing boat captain arrested near disputed islands.
The rare move pushed already tense relations to a new low, and showed China's willingness to play hardball with its Asian rival on issues of territorial integrity.
The move yesterday came a day after anti-Japanese protests were held across China on the anniversary of the start of a Japanese invasion of China in 1931 that has historically cast a shadow over ties between the world's second- and third-largest economies.
The latest spat between Tokyo and Beijing was sparked when the Chinese vessel collided with two Japanese coast guard ships on September 7 near islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries.
The 14 Chinese crew were released last week, but the captain's detention for further questioning - pending a decision about whether to press charges - has inflamed ever-present anti-Japanese sentiment in China.
China's Foreign Ministry said that Japan's refusal to release the boat captain had caused "severe damage" to relations.
A ministry statement said Beijing had suspended ministerial and provincial-level contacts, halted talks on aviation issues and postponed a meeting to discuss coal.
"If Japan acts wilfully, making mistake after mistake, China will take strong countermeasures, and all the consequences will be borne by the Japanese side," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said.
Takeshi Matsunaga, a spokesman for Japan's Foreign Ministry, said the reported measures were unilateral.
"We ask China to respond calmly so as not to escalate the problem further."
The move raises questions about co-operation between China and Japan at international forums, such as this week's summit in New York on United Nations goals to fight poverty, which Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan are attending.
It also throws into doubt whether China's President Hu Jintao will attend the annual summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum leaders to be held in Yokohama, Japan, in November. Leaders of the two countries were also due to attend a G-20 summit in Seoul the same month.
This is the lowest bilateral relations have fallen to since the 2001-06 term of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose repeated visits to a war shrine in Japan during his tenure angered China.
The two countries halted ministerial-level defence talks for three years from 2003. But even in those tense times, Japan's Foreign Minister visited China in 2004 and met Wen.
China's decision to cut high-level contacts appears to reflect a worry about losing face in front of the Chinese public, which might trigger a nationalistic backlash against the Government if it appears weak or unable to protect the country's sovereignty.
Beijing made the announcements shortly after a Japanese court approved a 10-day extension of captain Zhan Qixiong's detention.
"His detention was extended for further questioning. He will be held until September 29," an official at the Naha Public Prosecutor's Office in Okinawa, southern Japan, said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Japan's new Foreign Minister, Seiji Maehara, reiterated the Government's stance that there should be no dispute over the islands because they are an "integral part of Japanese territory".
China, however, sees the captain's detention and possible prosecution under Japanese law as a provocation and challenge to its claim of sovereignty over the islands.