China’s state media warned people to avoid violence and a Chinese city outlawed “illegal” protests in some areas as anger over a territorial dispute prompted attacks on Japanese companies and demands from Tokyo that its citizens be protected.
On a trip to Tokyo today, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the he was “very concerned” after demonstrators took to the streets yesterday in a dozen cities across China in the biggest protests since 2005, and urged the two sides to resolve the dispute via diplomacy. In Shenzhen, police used tear gas and water cannons to stop protesters from reaching a Japanese department store, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.
The protests have further strained ties between Asia’s largest economies and may hurt the two countries’ ability to fight an economic slowdown. The standoff is also playing out amid China’s once-a-decade leadership transition, conducted behind closed doors, and the political fallout from the ouster of Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai earlier this year.
“The government has to be extremely careful,” Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute in Singapore, said by phone. “One day they are against the Japanese, and the next day they could be against the government.”
Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara triggered the latest tensions in April when he said he may use public funds to buy disputed islands known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. Tensions escalated after Japan’s cabinet approved the purchase of the islands for 2.05 billion yen ($26 million) on Sept. 11. China, which has said it doesn’t accept the move, dispatched government vessels to the area.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said yesterday he’ll demand the Chinese government ensure the safety of Japanese citizens.
“I intend to strongly demand that the Chinese government ensure security” of Japanese citizens, Noda said yesterday on public broadcaster NHK’s “Sunday Debate” program.
In Shanghai yesterday, hundreds of riot police watched over groups of protesters as they gathered outside the Japanese consulate chanting, “down with Japan devils, boycott Japanese goods, give back Diaoyu.” There were no reports of injuries in the largely peaceful demonstrations.
Hundreds of protesters in Beijing threw plastic bottles and eggs at the Japanese embassy a day earlier as riot police stood guard at the gates. In Guangzhou, more than 10,000 people marched in protest, the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday.
The northern Chinese city of Xian will ban “illegal” protests in some areas of the city, according to a statement on the local public security bureau’s website. Any vandalism justified by “national interest” won’t be allowed, it said.
“Violence cannot be tolerated simply because the protests are aimed at Japan,” the state-run Global Times newspaper said today. “Violence can only weaken the current campaign against Japan.”
The protests come as China faces its own political upheaval ahead of a once-a-decade leadership transition set to take place at a party congress later this year. Former Chongqing Police Chief Wang Lijun goes on trial tomorrow over his alleged link to the murder of a British businessman in November -- a case that resulted in the ouster of Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, once considered a candidate for the Politburo Standing Committee.
A two-week absence by Vice President Xi Jinping, who is set to replace Hu Jintao as China’s leader, prompted speculation over his health and whether someone would be needed to replace him. Xi reappeared over the weekend, tamping speculation of new trouble among the Chinese leadership.
Sales of Japanese-branded passenger cars fell last month in China, compared with gains of more than 10 percent for German, American and South Korean vehicles. China is the world’s largest car market.
A Toyota Motor Corp. dealership was damaged by fire in the Chinese city of Qingdao and the company is checking for losses in other locations, spokesman Keisuke Kirimoto said yesterday. Smoke and flames were also reported coming from a Panasonic electronics parts plant in the same city after demonstrations, Tokyo-based spokesman Atsushi Hinoki said.
Toyota and Honda Motor Co. spokespeople in China said they were unaware of any plans so far to halt production tomorrow. Nissan Motor Co. is discussing whether to give employees working in Beijing a day off tomorrow or allow them to work from home, according to a spokesperson.
Japan’s Kyodo News said Sept. 15 that more than 40,000 people joined the demonstrations in 20 Chinese cities.
“Japan is becoming more and more arrogant and the feelings of Chinese are increasingly being oppressed,” said Xiao Feng, 26, an office worker protesting at the Japanese consulate in Shanghai yesterday after traveling to the city from Jiangxi province. “We need to step up and make our feelings known that they can’t just have their way.”
Activists from Hong Kong plan to sail to the islands on Sept. 18, China National Radio reported on its website. Japan last month arrested and deported a group that departed from Hong Kong and landed on the islets to assert China’s claim.
September 18 is the anniversary of the Mukden Incident, also known as the Manchurian Incident, which took place in 1931 near what is now the Chinese city of Shenyang and led to the Japanese invasion of the northeastern portions of China.
In Japan, the Foreign Ministry announced that Shinichi Nishimiya, the incoming Japanese envoy to China, died yesterday morning after an illness. Nishimiya was sent to the hospital for an unspecified illness two days after his appointment, the ministry said earlier on Sept. 13.
On Sept. 15, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto cut short a visit to Australia because of the protests in China, NHK reported.