BEIJING/TOKYO – Anti-Japan protests reignited across China today, the sensitive anniversary marking Tokyo’s occupation of its giant neighbour, escalating a maritime dispute which has forced major Japanese brandname firms to suspend business there.
Relations between Asia’s two biggest economies have faltered badly, with emotions running high on the streets and also out at sea where two Japanese activists landed on an island at the centre of the dispute.
China reacted swiftly to the news of the landing, which risked inflaming a crisis that already ranks as China’s worst outbreak of anti-Japan sentiment in decades.
Beijing described the landing as provocative, lodged a complaint with Tokyo and said it reserved the right to “take further action”.
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 that were smothered by a heavy blanket of security.
Japanese businesses shut hundreds of stores and factories across China and Japan’s embassy in Beijing again came under siege by protesters hurling water bottles, waving Chinese flags, and chanting anti-Japan slogans evoking war-time enmity.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda urged Beijing again to protect Japanese citizens in China.
“Today is our day of shame,” said a Beijing protester, Wei Libing, a waiter in his 40s. “Japan invaded China on this date.”
“Wipe out all Japanese dogs,” read one banner held aloft by one of thousands of protesters marching on the embassy, which was ringed by riot police standing six rows deep. Japan’s foreign ministry said some embassy windows had been smashed.
Sino-Japanese ties have long been plagued by China’s bitter memories of Japan’s military aggression in the 1930s and 1940s and present rivalry over resources – the islands are believed to be surrounded by energy-rich waters.
Anniversary of occupation
For China, today marks the day Japan began its occupation of parts of mainland China in 1931.
Rowdy protests sprang up in other major cities including Shanghai, raising the risk they could get out of hand and backfire on Beijing, which has given tacit approval to them through state media. One Hong Kong newspaper said some protesters in southern Shenzhen had been detained for calling for democracy and human rights.
Japan’s coast guard said three Chinese marine surveillance ships briefly entered what Japan considers its territorial waters near the disputed islets on Tuesday evening, the second time since Friday when six ships briefly entered the waters.
“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 in a statement.
A flotilla of around 1,000 Chinese fishing boats is also reported by Chinese and Japanese media to be heading to the area.
The long-standing territorial dispute bubbled over again last week when the Japanese government decided to nationalise some of the islands, buying them from a private Japanese owner. (Reuters)