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Japan gov't support slides on handling of China row

TOKYO -- Support for Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's government has slipped to about 50 percent because of dissatisfaction with Japan's handling of a territorial feud with China, newspaper polls showed on Monday.

Ties between Asia's two biggest economies deteriorated sharply after Japan's coastguard detained a Chinese trawler captain whose boat collided last month with two patrol ships near islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by both countries.

Kan, who has been under fire domestically for seeming to cave in to China's demands to free the captain, is expected to seek other countries' understanding for Japan's stance at an Asia-Europe summit on Monday and Tuesday.

He said on Sunday he had no plan for formal talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, also attending the summit in Brussels.

Voter support for Kan's government dropped to 49 percent from 64 percent last month, a survey by the Mainichi newspaper showed. Another poll, by the Yomiuri newspaper, showed a fall to 53 percent from 66 percent in the previous survey.

More than 70 percent of respondents to both surveys said it was inappropriate for Japanese prosecutors to release the Chinese captain without concluding whether to indict him. About 40 percent in the Yomiuri survey said the move gave the impression that Japan would cave in to foreign pressure.

Trade Ties Concern

On Saturday, more than 2,000 conservative activists rallied in Tokyo to criticize the government's handling of the affair.

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, the de facto second most senior leader in Kan's government, told Reuters in an interview the public would eventually come around. China has released three Japanese citizens who had been detained on suspicion of illegally entering a military zone, but one remains in custody.

The row has raised concern about damage to trade ties at a time when Japan is increasingly reliant on China's dynamism for growth. China became Japan's biggest trading partner last year.

Masatoshi Matsuzaki, president and CEO of Konica Minolta, which manufactures its mainstay printers and office equipment in China, told Reuters in an interview that there had been no big impact on its business despite some delays at customs.

But he added: “We are now in the founding anniversary holidays (in China), so we have to see what happens this week, whether there is any change.”

Japan has urged calm and repeatedly said ties with China were vital. But it is also worried about China's military buildup and stepped-up maritime activities.

Japan and the United States are set to conduct a joint military exercise in December focusing on defending remote isles, and Japan, seeking to counter suspicious ships in or around its waters, may buy U.S. drones, Kyodo news agency reported.

Japan also seems to be struggling to agree on a common message to China.

A senior ruling party lawmaker called China a “bad neighbor” over the weekend, prompting current and former foreign ministers to play down the remark and stress the need to deepen ties.

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