China Aims at Japan’s Economy in Island Protests

Protesters hold a poster of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong and Chinese national flags near the Japanese consulate in Shanghai on Sunday. (Photo: Reuters)

BEIJING—Chinese are trying to hurt Japan economically for leverage in a bitter dispute over contested islands, turning to angry protests and calls for boycotts of Japanese businesses, abetted in part by China’s government.

Sporadic protests in China over the past week became larger and at times violent and spread to at least two dozen cities over the weekend. Protesters torched a Panasonic factory and Toyota dealership in the eastern port of Qingdao, looted a Heiwado Co. department store in the southern city of Changsha and ransacked Japanese supermarkets in several cities.

Though larger numbers of police imposed more order on demonstrations on Sunday, they fired tear gas to subdue rowdy protesters in the southern city of Shenzhen. In nearby Guangzhou city, protesters broke into a hotel that was next to the Japanese Consulate and damaged a Japanese restaurant inside.

Japan has demanded that China ensure the safety of Japanese citizens and businesses. “Unfortunately, this is an issue that is impacting the safety of our citizens and causing damage to the property of Japanese businesses,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, on Sunday.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Sunday that he is concerned that island disputes in the Asia-Pacific region could spark provocations and result in violence that could involve other nations, such as the United States.

While it urged protesters not to resort to violence, China’s government has also encouraged the use of economic pressure in the dispute over Japan’s control over the East China Sea islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

China’s National Tourism Administration ordered travel companies last week to cancel tours to Japan over the weeklong National Day holiday in early October and promised to compensate any businesses for costs they could not recover, said a lawyer who saw the written order and asked not to be identified because the document is not for public use.

The scale and violence are the worst in recurring waves of anti-Japanese protests since 2005, when lingering grievances over Japan’s occupation of parts of China in the 1930s through World War II brought Chinese into the streets.

Since then, China’s economy has supplanted Japan’s as the world’s second largest and its diplomatic clout and military firepower have soared. State broadcaster China Central Television on Sunday showed Chinese naval forces conducting firing drills in the East China Sea, though it did not give a date for the exercises.

Tensions have been growing for months over the East China Sea islands, since a right-wing nationalist Japanese politician vowed to buy them from their private owners to better protect them from Chinese encroachment. When the Japanese government purchased the islands this week to keep them out of the politician’s hands, China reacted angrily, sending marine patrol ships inside Japanese-claimed waters around the islands.

State media, which answer to the ruling Communist Party, joined ordinary Chinese in calling for boycotts of Japanese goods. One regional newspaper ran a list of well-known Japanese brands along with calls for a boycott. China Central Television halted advertisements for Japanese products on two of its main channels over the weekend, according to China National Radio.

Nissan President and CEO Carlos Ghosn told reporters in Hong Kong last week that though so far the dispute had not had a discernible impact on sales in China, it might if it degenerates “into something more serious.”

Imports from Japan are off six percent so far this year compared with the first eight months of last year, according to Chinese government figures.

A manager of a Sony laptop store in Shanghai said fewer people were coming into his shop. “We sold more than 100 last month, while in these 13 days in September, we sold fewer than 10,” manager Yan Long said last week. “We all know these products are made in China, but with a Japanese brand, but it’s just the way it is.”

Calls for boycotts in previous rounds of China-Japan tensions have fizzled, so it’s unclear whether this time will be any different. The Japanese and Chinese economies have robust trade and economic ties, and Japan is a major investor, its businesses providing jobs in manufacturing and services. A boycott or trade fight would likely hurt the Chinese economy at a time its growth is rapidly slowing and the Chinese leadership is worried about civil unrest.

At a Guomei electronics store in Beijing—teeming with flat-screen TVs, cameras and stereo systems—consumers seemed divided. “We should ban their products,” fumed 70-year-old former soldier Sun Zhiyi as he left the store. “Japan’s ambition is growing bigger and bigger. Our government is too weak.”

Others, however, praised Japanese products for their good value. “Their quality is good and I will still buy them,” said 20-year-old bank clerk Yu Jinsheng, shopping for a camera.

In 2010, China temporarily stopped exports to Japan of rare earth metals used in high-tech manufacturing after Japan arrested a fishing boat captain whose trawler collided with two Japanese patrol boats off the islands.

China could also threaten Japan with sanctions like it did with the United States in 2010 over Taiwan or cancel trade delegations, but this is unlikely because it could have a detrimental effect on trade relations, said Sarah McDowall, a London-based senior Asia-Pacific analyst at IHS.

“They need each other,” she said.

Beijing is treading a careful line, wanting to pressure Japan over the islands and appear a staunch defender of Chinese national interests, without encouraging violence. Protesters in Beijing and several other cities carried portraits of Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. Though the current leaders use Mao as a rallying symbol, his radical policies have been abandoned and so carrying his poster is a safe, backhanded way of criticizing the government.

On Saturday, protesters in Beijing numbered in the thousands and nearly breached a metal retaining wall in front of the Japanese Embassy. On Sunday, security personnel outnumbered the protesters, who threw water bottles, bananas, tomatoes and eggs at the embassy and chanted slogans.

State media appealed for people to be “rational” on Sunday, in contrast to their more combative language last week. “The expression of patriotic feelings should not come at the cost of disrupting domestic social order,” Xinhua wrote in a commentary.

Censors also stepped up their policing of social media to prevent news of protests from spreading. Users of China’s popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo site couldn’t search for the term “anti-Japan protests” on Sunday and videos of protests once posted quickly disappeared.

Further complicating matters, Japan’s newly appointed ambassador to China, Shinichi Nishimiya, died Sunday, three days after collapsing near his home in Tokyo. No official cause of death was released. He had been appointed ambassador on Tuesday, and was to assume his new post next month.

8 Responses to China Aims at Japan’s Economy in Island Protests

  1. Japanese should be stoned to death.
    To date the Japanese still refused to apologize for the inhuman crime they committed during WW2.

  2. I, a Burmese, welcome all Japanese companies and manufacturers in China to come and invest in Myanmar, where they will feel much safer, if they can no longer wish to do business there or are not wanted by China for business there.

    • Japanese companies can make their products anywhere they like, including burma. but, they are in china to sell their products more than to manufacture. in electronics, south korean and taiwanese companies are giving them a run for their money. in automotives, they are fighting tooth to nail with american and german companies. in financial sector, hong kong firms can wipe the floor the japanese companies. before this madness, they enjoyed brand recognition due to past success. but when they keep changing guards almost bi-annually at the top level, there isn’t much of policy consistency in trade and foreign relations. Japan has no one but themselves to blame for this debacle.

  3. China is causing problems everywhere. ASEAN beware. A big bad wolf in sheep’s clothing.

  4. The Chinese are bloodsuckers of the world while the Japanese government behaves well working with other democratic countries around the world. When the UN discussed about the human rights violation in Than Shwe’s rule, China was the one who stood with dictators, never for the people. China was bad, China is bad and China will be a bad guy for those who love Democracy. Down with China or up with Japan.

  5. These days Myanmar people prefer Japan to China the crony of the oppressive miltary government. China do not care about the Myanmar people.we should boycott China and Chinese business.

  6. I am a burmese and am now proud to call myself one as well due to the reform. I have lived in Japan when i was a child and some korean and chinese seem to think Japanese has never apologized but that’s incorrect, also how much of a money did Japanese give to these countries that have got affected due to war?
    Do these people from those affected countries aware of it?Maybe not as there goverment would sensors these areas. So really, no one should be abusing japanese or accusing them. Past is past, war happened as Asia was colonised by caucasians and Japan toook the first step to fight against the colonisation of the west to the east, and have done it as it was in need of the resource. It can be said the same of germany but who is complaining here??Don’t just start accusing Japanese this and that,study about history before even judging on your beliefs.

    • ” some korean and chinese seem to think Japanese has never apologized but that’s incorrect” They did apologized, but turned around and worship the very war criminals that committed the atrocities. not much sincerity out there, isn’t it? just think how the jews the world over would respond had germans put up a hitler shrine and visit it at any given chace.

      “Past is past, war happened as Asia was colonised by caucasians and Japan toook the first step to fight against the colonisation of the west to the east” oh. how sweet were the japanese? they tried to save asia from whitemen by killing off, raping, robbing the asian countries. if they wanted the resources, ever thought about buying or trading with other countries instead of robbing?

      “It can be said the same of germany but who is complaining here??” again ever heard of german politicians worshipping war criminals? when japanese shows the same maturity, then they will ear the same respect the germans enjoy now.

      history proves time and again that the country with bigger guns always set the rules. right now, the everyone looks up to the US not because it promote democracy, but because it has the biggest guns.

      In burmese history, the mon kingdom became a part of burmese kingdom not because burmen were so righteous and nice and kind to Mons, but because burmen killed the Mon king, destroyed the Mon capital and brought all of Mon skilled labors to Pagan leaving nothing but a burnt-down city behind.

      Even right now, you can see the burmen’s kindness to Kachin, Rohingya et. al.

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