Emotive anniversary fuels Chinese protests
ON THE anniversary of Japan’s 1931 occupation, fearful Japanese residents across China stayed indoors while Japanese shops, restaurants and factories were shuttered. Demonstrators took to the streets to protest Tokyo’s purchase of islands claimed by Beijing, smashing Nissan cars and sushi bars to show their anger.
Relations between Asia’s two biggest economies are at a low ebb as the dispute over the uninhabited group of islands in the East China Sea – known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China – led to another day of protests.
In China’s financial capital Shanghai, home to China’s biggest Japanese population, thousands of Chinese staged a massive demonstration outside the Japanese consulate, waving banners saying “Kill all Japanese” and “Destroy all the Japanese dogs”.
China marks every September 18th by blowing sirens to remember the Mukden Incident, a 1931 event that Japan used as a pretext to invade Manchuria, setting off a brutal occupation of China that ended only at the close of the second World War. But this year the anniversary went nationwide.
“These people demonstrating are students; they are China’s future. They are our national power, ready to burst with patriotic strength,” wrote one blogger on the Weibo network.
Another online commentator, Jiangnanfengxujing, wrote: “More police dogs than people – it looks like they are guarding the Japanese consulate, but they are protecting the government building. It seems they are afraid of something.”
At the Japanese embassy in Beijing, protesters threw bottles and fruit, chanted anti-Japanese songs, and demanded boycotts of Japanese goods. Windows were smashed.
All over China, Japanese companies were forced to close as the crisis over a territorial dispute escalated. The front page of Beijing Daily News showed workers at the clothing retailer Uniqlo in the plush Village mall painting the company’s logo red – Uniqlo shut about a quarter of its 145 Uniqlo stores in China for the day.
There was a swift and outraged reaction to news that two Japanese activists had landed on an island at the centre of the dispute.
“The unlawful landing of the Japanese right-wingers on the Chinese territory of the Diaoyu islands was a gravely provocative action violating Chinese territorial sovereignty,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
China’s defence chief Liang Guanglie said he hoped for a peaceful resolution to the dispute, but warned against the possibility of “further actions”.
Beijing has given tacit approval to the protests but there are fears that they could get out of hand. Many of the protesters carried portraits of Chairman Mao Zedong, an implicit criticism of the current administration in China, and wore combat fatigues favoured by the old school Communists of the civil war era.
The Maoist demonstrators bore banners saying “United, Love China, Never forget our national shame.”
Last week, the Japanese government bought three of the five islands from the family that owns them, prompting protests in China.
While there are fears the tensions could escalate into a more serious conflict, the initial fallout looks likely to be felt on trade between Asia’s two biggest economies.
China is Japan’s largest trading partner, and Japan is China’s third largest. In 2011 the countries’ bilateral trade grew 14.3 per cent to €263 billion.