China has stepped up customs inspections of goods shipped to and from Japan, slowing trade, logistics companies said Monday, amid a spat over the detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain near disputed islands.
Customs officers who usually look at 2 percent to 10 percent of goods in shipments began checking up to 95 percent this weekend, said employees of cargo companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen, a major port near Hong Kong. Customs officials gave no explanation for the change, they said.
"Normally it takes one or two days but now it's going to be about a week," said Mary Deng, an administrator for Shenzhen Hyun Young International Transportation Co. The company handles shipments of Chinese-made furniture, clothing and other goods to Japan.
A customs agency spokesman denied that goods to and from Japan were targeted for increased inspections.
"China's customs agency monitors and inspects inbound and outbound products according to law," said the spokesman, who would give only his surname, Tao. "We have not increased the rate of inspections on Japan-related products."
Beijing reacted angrily to the Sept. 8 detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain after a collision with two Japanese coast guard vessels near a group of disputed islands known as the Diaoyus to China and the Senkakus to Japan.
Beijing cut off minister-level dialogue with Tokyo and postponed talks on developing undersea gas fields between the two nations. The captain was released Friday and returned home but Beijing is pressing for an apology and compensation. Japan has rejected those demands and asked China to pay for the damage to its patrol boats.
Japanese trading company officials say China halted exports to Japan last Thursday of rare earths — minerals used in lightweight magnets and other high-tech products. China's Ministry of Commerce denied Beijing had tightened curbs.
Japan and China are bound by multibillion-dollar ties of trade, investment and aid despite rivalry for regional leadership and lingering Chinese anger over Japanese wartime aggression.
China imported Japanese goods worth $130.9 billion last year while exports to Japan were $97.9 billion, according to Chinese customs figures. China imports Japanese industrial components and exports finished goods.
Panasonic Corp.'s president Fumio Ohtsubo called on the Japanese government to patch up relations with China, a key nation for the electronics maker's sales.
He said the souring of political relations was unexpected and would be damaging if it continued. "I ask for consideration that, in this global world, we are doing business together, and we hope the government will find a path toward resolution."
Tokyo has not confirmed whether Beijing has imposed restrictions on trade with Japan, said the Japanese state secretary for foreign affairs, Takeaki Matsumoto.
Customs inspections also were stepped up at the ports of Tianjin, Ningbo and Guangzhou, said cargo company employees.
A saleswomen for WinTrans Logistics Co. in Shanghai said the amount of its shipments that are being inspected by customs rose from 8 to 10 percent to nearly 80 percent.
"We are not clear about the reason, but our business certainly is affected," said the woman, who would give only her surname, Liao.
There was no change in inspections in the northern port of Qingdao, said Zhu Yongqiang, an employee of Honortrans International Logistics Co. But he said the volume of the port's shipments to Japan of Chinese minerals, chemicals and construction materials has declined 30 to 40 percent in recent days.
"We don't know why the shipping volume declined, but it must be something related to the China-Japan relations," Zhu said.
Associated Press researchers Bonnie Cao in Beijing and Ji Chen in Shanghai and AP writers Yuri Kageyama and Tomoko A. Hosaka in Tokyo contributed.