China-Japan row simmers as protests enter third day


TOKYO: Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged Beijing on Monday to guarantee the safety of Japanese companies and citizens, as a wave of rowdy protests in China sparked by a territorial row entered a third day.
As many as 1,000 anti-Japanese demonstrators took to the streets of Wuhan, the capital of China’s central Hubei province, on Monday, chanting slogans to vent their anger at Tokyo amid a heavy police presence, witnesses said.
Armed police with riot shields also guarded an outlet of Japanese retailer Ito-Yokado in Chengdu, Sichuan, where windows were smashed in a rally Saturday, in one of four anti-Japanese demonstrations at the weekend. The protests, which appeared to have caught Chinese authorities by surprise, were the largest since 2005, when Japan’s then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi stoked fury by visiting the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo.
On the government front, too, tensions between the Asian giants, triggered by Japan’s arrest last month of a Chinese skipper, showed no sign of abating, with Tokyo’s foreign minister labelling Beijing’s reaction “hysterical”. Both nations have sought to arrange a premiers’ summit later this month to ease their worst spat in years, but weekend street protests in both countries highlighted how the issue has inflamed nationalist passions.
Thousands of mostly young Chinese demonstrators took to the streets of at least four cities at the weekend to assert China’s claim to a disputed island chain where the maritime incident six weeks ago kicked off the diplomatic row.
In the protests — apparently organised on the Internet and via text messages following an anti-Chinese rally in Tokyo Saturday — demonstrators smashed windows of Japanese businesses including a Panasonic outlet and an Isetan department store, and attacked Japanese-brand cars, news reports said. Japanese media said the protests broke out mostly in more lightly policed inland cities far from the capital, while political leaders were in Beijing for a communist party congress.
Japan’s Kan said late Monday the government would release video footage of the collisions, although it was not immediately clear whether only parliamentarians or the public would be allowed to see it. During the row China has issued a barrage of protests and angry editorials in state media, while also taking punitive economic steps, including allegedly halting the export of rare earths minerals crucial for high-tech products.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said after Saturday’s protests: “It is understandable that some people expressed their outrage against the recent erroneous words and deeds on the Japanese side.” But, apparently seeking to calm the situation, Ma added: “We maintain that patriotism should be expressed rationally and in line with law. We don’t agree with irrational actions that violate laws and regulations.”