The Japanese government was scrambling on Friday to find out how videos of an altercation between a Chinese fishing trawler and the Japan Coast Guard ended up on YouTube. Its appearance marked the second time this week that sensitive government information was leaked on to the Internet.
Several video clips posted to YouTube show a Sept. 7 incident that occurred near a disputed island chain and resulted in the captain of a Chinese fishing boat being arrested.
In the most dramatic of the clips, a coast guard vessel is sailing alongside the fishing boat, blaring its siren and shouting in English and Chinese for the fishing boat to stop. The two ships then collide. In another clip the Chinese boat collides side-on with a coast guard vessel.
"If this is true, I think it's incredibly regrettable," Japanese Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida, said in a televised news conference.
The YouTube account that originally posted the videos has already been deleted, but the videos have been mirrored on other accounts and were continuously playing Friday on Japanese TV news shows. They have also appeared on Chinese online video sites.
Japan and China regularly argue over the islands, which are situated in the East China Sea. Japan refers to them as the Senkaku Islands while China and Taiwan call them the Diaoyutai Islands.
The arguments usually have little impact but the arrest this time of the Chinese captain sent Sino-Japanese relations spiralling
downward. China saw nationwide protests against Japan and several high-level government meetings were cancelled. Smaller demonstrations against China also took place in Tokyo.
Bilateral relations have shown signs of thawing in recent days and the two countries have been expected to meet on the sidelines of next week's APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in Japan.
Japanese lawmakers saw the video this week, but the government decided against releasing it to the public for fear it would further damage ties ahead of the planned summit meeting. With the footage online, Japan is now waiting to see if there is any response from the Chinese government.
The YouTube videos are even more embarrassing for the government because they are over six times longer than video shown to lawmakers.
The leak comes days after a cache of police documents was discovered on a Japanese file-sharing network.
The documents, which were posted to the Winny network, reportedly included some relating to international terrorism.
Winny is a popular file-sharing application in Japan, but it contains a number of bugs that allow for the user's computer to be attacked. There have been many previous cases of confidential government or corporate documents appearing online because of the careless use of Winny on work computers
and the same had been feared this time.
Japanese media reported on Thursday that the leak appeared to have been deliberate.