Anti-Japan protests spread across China

Senkaku©AP

Chinese and Japanese naval forces off Senkaku islands

Tension between China and Japan over a group of disputed islands escalated on Tuesday as 11 Chinese patrol boats headed towards the Senkaku archipelago and anti-Japan protests spread across China.

Thousands demonstrated outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing to mark the 81st anniversary of Japan’s invasion of Manchuria. Protests erupted again in dozens of other cities, including Shanghai, Chengdu and Shenzhen, prompting many Japanese companies to halt operations.

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The growing spat has thrown relations between the world’s second-largest and third-largest economy into one of their worst crises since the two established diplomatic ties 40 years ago.

Tensions between the two powers have risen in recent months over the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Japan controls the islands – called the Diaoyu in Chinese – which are also claimed by China and Taiwan. China has seen a spate of anti-Japan protests over the last week, when the Japanese government bought three of the islands from their private Japanese owner.

Many protesters in Beijing called for a boycott of Japanese goods, with some handing out lists of 40 brands people were encouraged to shun, including food and drinks companies such as Suntory, Toyota cars and Sony electronics.

    Japanese businesses have responded by shuttering stores and halting factory operations throughout China to avoid being targeted.

    Fast Retailing, owner of the Uniqlo brand, shut outlets in Beijing, while dozens of 7-Eleven convenience stores, which belong to another Japanese company, were also closed.

    Canon, the consumer electronics group, has halted operations at three factories until Wednesday. Sony said two of its seven factories would be closed on Tuesday. Mitsumi Electric, an important supplier to Nintendo, said it was suspending manufacturing operations. Toyota, Honda and Nissan said it had suspended production at some locations in China.

    “This time that China and Japan are facing off directly . . . has triggered a reaction that exceeds past ones,” said Zhou Weihong, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

    In Beijing, some demonstrators threw rocks and water bottles at the Japanese embassy. Protesters chanted “Diaoyu Islands are China’s” and “Kneel down bastards”. One group urged Beijing: “Flatten Tokyo, destroy Japan!”.

    Tokyo called on China to ensure the safety of its citizens given “the important role that Japanese companies play in China’s economy”. There are about 141,000 Japanese living in China, according to the latest data from the Japanese government.

    However, there were signs that Beijing does not want the protests to escalate out of control. In Beijing, police blared warnings over loudspeakers, saying: “Japan has violated China’s rights and it is only natural to express your views . . . However, we ask that you please express your patriotism in an orderly, lawful, rational fashion.”

    Japan China trade

    In Shanghai, demonstrators were outnumbered by several thousand police, some carrying shields and batons, who barricaded streets near the Japanese consulate. In Chengdu, a vocal group of about 200 protesters gathered near the anti-Japan war monument, but it was far outnumbered by police and paramilitary in full riot gear.

    General Liang Guanglie, China’s defence minister, said China would “reserve our right to take further action” but added it hoped to use peaceful means and negotiations to solve the problem, in line with statements issued by the foreign ministry.

    Observers say the demonstrations are the worst in recent years. “The violence of the attacks on Japanese businesses this time appear to be worse than what happened in 2010 and in 2005 when Junichiro Koizumi went to Yasukuni Shrine,” said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies (ICAS) at Temple University in Japan.

    The 2005 visit by then prime minister Mr Koizumi to a shrine, which honours Japanese war criminals, triggered massive protests in China. Tensions flared again in 2010 when Japanese police arrested the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that collided with two Japanese coast guard vessels near the islands.

    “The problem is once it starts, it’s very difficult to stop,” Mr Dujarric said.

    Losses on the Nikkei 225 Stock Average were led by stocks with big China exposures, such as Fast Retailing, down 7 per cent, and Nissan, off 5 per cent. The consumer services and consumer goods sectors were hardest hit, with heavy selling of stocks such as Shiseido and Kao Corp, the cosmetics companies that have made great play of targeting China.

    Reporting by Kathrin Hille, Leslie Hook and Simon Rabinovitch in Beijing, Patti Waldmeir in Shanghai, Rahul Jacob in Shenzhen, Jamil Anderlini in Chengdu, Michiyo Nakamoto, Jonathan Soble and Ben McLannahan in Tokyo.

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