China struggles to curb anger as protesters denounce Japan

BEIJING/CHENGDU, China Sun Sep 16, 2012 9:14am EDT

1 of 10. People look at a large Chinese national flag that covers the entrance to a Japanese restaurant located near the Japanese embassy in Beijing September 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray

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BEIJING/CHENGDU, China (Reuters) - Chinese police used pepper spray, tear gas and water cannon to break up an anti-Japan protest in southern China on Sunday as demonstrators took to the streets in scores of cities across the country in a long-running row over a group of disputed islands.

The protests erupted in Beijing and many other cities on Saturday, when demonstrators besieged the Japanese embassy, hurling rocks, eggs and bottles and testing police cordons, prompting the Japanese prime minister to call on Beijing to ensure protection of his country's people and property.

In the biggest flare-up on Sunday, police fired about 20 rounds of tear gas and used water cannon and pepper spray to repel thousands occupying a street in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.

Protesters attacked a Japanese department store, grabbed police shields and knocked off their helmets. One protester was seen with blood on his face. At least one policeman was hit with a flowerpot.

Demonstrators have looted shops and attacked Japanese cars and restaurants in at least five Chinese cities. Protesters also broke into a dozen Japanese-run factories in eastern Qingdao on Saturday, according to the Japanese broadcaster NHK.

It added that the protests had spread to at least 72 cities.

"Regrettably, this is a problem concerning the safety of Japanese nationals and Japan-affiliated companies," Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told a talk show on NHK. "I would like to urge the Chinese government to protect their safety."

The protests, the latest setback in long-troubled relations between Beijing and Tokyo, followed Japan's decision on Tuesday to buy the disputed islands, which Tokyo calls the Senkaku and Beijing calls the Diaoyu and which could contain valuable gas reserves, from a private Japanese owner.

Beijing called that decision a provocative violation of its sovereignty.

China may have unleashed the protests to put pressure on Japan, but the government also risks a backlash from that same public anger ahead of a delicate leadership succession.

Many demonstrators in Beijing held aloft portraits of Mao Zedong, the late revolutionary leader who is still a patriotic icon - but one who can also serve as an implicit rebuke to present-day leaders.

"We think that the government has been too soft and we want to show it what we think," said one 25-year-old protester, salesman Zhang Xin. "I feel disappointed in the government and it doesn't heed our voice."

CALLS FOR WAR

A six-deep cordon of anti-riot police guarded the Japanese embassy in Beijing as demonstrators resumed their protest on Sunday, screaming slogans and insults as they passed by and throwing plastic bottles full of water.

"If Japan does not back down we must go to war. The Chinese people are not afraid," said 19-year-old-student Shao Jingru.

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who walked by Sunday's protest in Beijing, told Reuters he believed the demonstrations were sanctioned by the government and the police.

"Chinese citizens need to thank the Japanese government because for the first time, they can mount a large protest on their own land," Ai said. "In China, there are no protests organized by the people."

Police used loud speakers to tell protesters - many of whom were shouting "declare war" - they should respect the law.

In Shanghai, about 1,500 people marched towards the Japanese consulate, where they were allowed to enter cordoned-off areas in small groups.

Police headed off a crowd of at least 2,000 protesters who were trying to charge the U.S. consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu. Protesters said they wanted the United States "to listen to their voices".

"Do you realize what the Japanese are doing? Why are you beating your fellow Chinese?" Chengdu protesters shouted at the police after some of their number were roughed up.

The Nikkei business newspaper said on Sunday demonstrators had earlier attacked two Panasonic electronic parts plants in the eastern cities of Qingdao and Suzhou. The company will decide whether to continue operations after checking the damage.

Toyota vehicle dealerships were also set on fire and many vehicles were damaged, it said, citing Toyota's China unit.

The flare-up has come while Asia's two biggest economies focus on domestic political pressures, narrowing the room for diplomatic give-and-take. Noda's government faces an election in months, adding pressure on him not to look weak on China.

China's ruling Communist Party is preoccupied with a leadership turnover, with President Hu Jintao due to step down as party leader at a congress that could open as soon as next month.

Chinese state media has praised "rational" expressions of anger but warned that violence could backfire against Beijing. The official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary that the protests were a "reasonable move and natural reaction" to what it called Japan's provocations.

Despite their deepening economic ties, China and Japan have long been at odds over bitter memories of Japan's military aggression in the 1930s and 1940s. Relations chilled in 2010 after Japan arrested a Chinese trawler captain whose boat collided with Japanese coastguard vessels near the islands.

The protests could continue for days yet. On Tuesday, China marks its official September 18 memorial day for Japan's war-time occupation of parts of China.

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley, Ben Blanchard and Sui-Lee Wee in BEIJING,; Aly Song and Pete Sweeney in SHANGHAI, Jason Lee in CHENGDU, Tyrone Siu in SHENZHEN, and Kiyoshi Takenaka, Yuko Inoue and Linda Sieg in TOKYO; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Comments (33)
Pterosaur wrote:
There is no turning back after Japan officially “bought” the island.

China has to let all the chinese fishboats to fish in the island aera and settle on the island and protect them.

Sep 15, 2012 10:55pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
CFJOWM wrote:
The Chinese are proving that they lied about the “peaceful rise” of China. The Chinese have problems with Japan, the Phillippines, Vietnam, and other small nations that border the “great” Chinese territory. I think this shows that nobody should trust the Chinese, especially the Africans. I would be willing to support China on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands with Japan if it weren’t for the fact that China is proving to be the modern day imperialist empire with her fights against all the small countries surrounding her. Japan is just one of these countries being stepped on by the imperialists in Beijing.

Sep 15, 2012 12:26am EDT  --  Report as abuse
justice918 wrote:
As a Chinese, most ppl like me, don’t want any war or lost of life to fight against Japan; but international society should stop Japan right wing government continually act as such a BULLY. Japanese seem only understand the philosophy of school yard bulling(no wonder there child suicide rate is so high in Japan). Chinese had lost 20 million lives, many done in the most gruesome barbaric manners by the imperial Japanese army, during the invasion. My grand father had his family member murdered by Japanese. However, because cold war, Japan was shield by the US from confronting it’s past sin, avoided to seek forgiveness from neighbors, continuously behaved like arrogantly school yard bully to asian neighbors, including occupying Diaoyu Island. And Chinese like my grandfather, the injustice he had suffered never was recognized by the US. If the US truly wish to be seem by Chinese and other Asian nations as a force of Justice, along with message of democracy, then US should condemn the bully behaviors of Japanese right wing movement!

Sep 15, 2012 12:38am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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