Chinese Take to Streets as Dispute With Japan Escalates - New York Times
HONG KONG — Tensions between China and Japan rose were heightened over the weekend as a group of Japanese activists landed on a disputed island Sunday morning and displayed Japanese flags.
The incident further antagonized public opinion and the government in China. The state-run news agency, Xinhua, reported that anti-Japanese protests took place Sunday in at least six cities.
As many as 10 Japanese activists swam ashore to an uninhabited island in the chain that Japan calls the Senkaku Islands and China labels the Diaoyu Islands. Japan has long controlled the islands but China also claims them.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry had asked Japan on Saturday to make sure that no Japanese activists reached the island. On Sunday, the foreign ministry urged Tokyo to rein in the behavior of Japanese activists lest they provoke even more strife between the two countries.
“Japanese right-wing elements have illegally violated China’s territorial sovereignty,” a spokesman, Qin Gang, said in a statement on the ministry’s Web site. “Relevant officials from the foreign ministry have already made stern representations to Japanese ambassador, making a strong protest and urging Japan to cease actions that are damaging China’s territorial sovereignty.”
The activists were part of a group of conservative members of Parliament and local politicians who arrived at the island on a flotilla of nearly two dozen boats. The Japanese Coast Guard did not release the names of the activists who had made it to shore.
The incident came four days after 14 activists from Hong Kong, Macau and China landed on the same island, Uotsuri. Half of them managed to reach the shore of one island and held aloft the flags of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
The Japanese Coast Guard detained all 14 activists but released them on Friday without filing charges. Seven of them flew back to Hong Kong on Friday evening while the rest are sailing back in their vessel.
New evidence emerged over the weekend that the Chinese and Hong Kong governments had tried but failed to stop the initial group of activists from traveling to the disputed island chain.
The Hong Kong police said in a statement that a police launch had been sent on Aug. 12 to intercept the activists’ vessel, the Kai Fung No. 2, before it could leave Hong Kong’s territorial waters. When the vessel ignored a signal to stop, four police officers boarded the vessel only to find that access to the wheelhouse, cabin and engine room had been locked.
With the vessel just 180 meters, or less than 600 feet, away from international waters, the police boarding party left without attempting to break in, said the police statement, which confirmed an account of the confrontation in Sunday editions of the Hong Kong newspaper The South China Morning Post.
The Marine Department had prevented activists aboard the same vessel from leaving Hong Kong on Jan. 3, making the argument then that the Kai Fung No. 2 was a fishing boat and was not safe or certified for trips unrelated to fishing.
The police said Sunday that the Marine Department had asked that the vessel be stopped under a local ordinance that gives the department the option of requiring anyone to obtain permission before leaving Hong Kong by sea.
Public opinion in China, already inflamed, has grown more strident since Japan deported the activists. On Saturday and Sunday, protesters took to the streets of at least half a dozen Chinese cities. According to Xinhua, more than a hundred people rallied near the Japanese Consulate in Guangzhou on Sunday waving banners and Chinese flags.
But photographs posted on Sina Weibo, the country’s most widely used microblogging service, suggested the crowds were larger. In one image said to be from a protest in the southwestern city of Chengdu, the number of participants appeared to be in the tens of thousands. “Defend the Diaoyu Islands to the death,” one banner read. Another said, “Even if China is covered with graves, we must kill all Japanese.”
Another photograph posted Sunday showed a handwritten sign taped to the entrance of Suning, a popular electronics store, telling customers it was no longer selling Japanese products.
Some protests appear to have turned violent. According to several postings, demonstrators attacked sushi restaurants or other businesses perceived to have a Japanese connection. Several photographs said to be from Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong, showed what appeared to be damaged or overturned cars, including police vehicles.
The demonstrations appeared to be sanctioned and chaperoned by the police, which generally prohibit public protests unless they suit the needs of the Communist Party.
In the past, Beijing has allowed nationalist sentiment to bubble up into street demonstrations, but the authorities usually keep them contained out of concern they might spiral out of control or metastasize into popular anti-government sentiment. Indeed, while many postings on microblogs expressed rage against the Japanese, a significant number also blasted the Chinese government for its timidity. Many such postings, however, were promptly deleted.
On Sunday, Global Times, a nationalist-inflected newspaper owned by People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, held an impromptu seminar on the crisis, with many participants calling for more radical action against Japan. During the seminar, one hawkish analyst, Dai Xu, called on the Chinese military to seize Japanese ships.
“We need to fight back against Japan with equal proportion,” he said, according to a microblog posting by the newspaper. Another participant, Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan, called on Beijing to send 100 boats to defend the islands. “If necessary, we could make the Diaoyu Islands a target range for China’s air force and plant mines around them,” he said.
But Hu Xijin, the editor of Global Times and an organizer of the seminar, counseled restraint, a departure from his usually militant writings on China’s territorial disputes. He belittled the Japanese activists as “provocative right-wing monkeys” and he said the contretemps was not worth a full-scale war between the two countries. “Chinese people, please don’t be overly angered by this, just regard them as monkeys,” he wrote. “We should have more confidence and view Japan from a global perspective.”
Confrontations between Japan and China on or near the contested islands have the potential to become larger international incidents. China halted exports of crucial rare earth metals to Japan for nearly two months after the Japanese Coast Guard in September 2010 detained a Chinese fishing vessel that slammed into a coast guard ship when it was intercepted near one of the islands.
The halt drew international attention to Chinese restrictions on exports of rare earths, and helped lead to the filing last spring of a World Trade Organization case broadly challenging China’s right to limit exports of such important minerals. Japan joined the United States and the European Union in filing the case, the first time that Japan has brought a trade case against its much larger neighbor.
A rare earth industry executive said there had been no sign so far this time of a disruption in Chinese exports of the strategic minerals. The executive insisted on anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue.
Keith Bradsher reported from Hong Kong Andrew Jacobs from Beijing. Patrick Zuo contributed research.