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Territorial tensions flare between China and Japan

August 19, 2012 |  1:06 pm

Chinese join in anti-Japanese protests over disputed islands
BEIJING -- Angry Chinese youths on Sunday overturned cars and smashed shop windows in anti-Japanese protests across the country stemming from a long-standing dispute over uninhabited islands claimed by both countries.

Meanwhile, 150 Japanese activists tried to land on the islands by boat Sunday to commemorate World War II deaths. When that failed, 10 of them swam to one of the rocky islands and tried to plant a Japanese flag.

The demonstrations in China were the largest since 2010 when a Chinese fishing captain who had rammed a Japanese coast guard vessel was arrested, leading to a protracted standoff.

The largest street protest was in Shenzhen, where thousands of people, mostly students, overturned Japanese-made police cars and smashed the windows of Japanese restaurants. Demonstrations also took place over the weekend in Chengdu, Xian and Jinan, among other Chinese cities, as well as in Hong Kong. Japanese chain stores like Uniqlo, which are wildly popular among young Chinese, were forced to close for the day.

“Japanese, get off of our Diaoyu Islands," read most of the banners, while others exhorted Chinese to “kill all the Japanese.”

Photographs that circulated on Chinese microblogs during the day showed a young man with a metal pipe destroying a Honda police car. Another showed a demonstrator in an anti-Japanese T-shirt taking photographs -- with a Canon single-lens reflex camera. Canon is a Japanese company.

The Chinese government had periodically allowed anti-Japanese demonstrations, as though giving youth an opportunity to let off steam while displaying their patriot fervor. But the protests are usually kept under enough control to prevent serious casualties or property damage.

This time, the tit-for-tat displays of nationalism began when a group of Hong Kong activists landed on the same islands Aug. 15, asserting China’s territorial claim. Trying to avoid a repeat of the 2010 fishing boat incident, Japan released the Hong Kong activists within 48 hours.

The Chinese foreign ministry complained Sunday about the landing of the Japanese activists, but issued an otherwise mild reproof.

"The Japanese side should properly handle the current issue and avoid seriously damaging the overall situation of China-Japan relations," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.

Editorials in the state media have also urged restraint.

The day of protests and counter-protests comes amid a flare-up of disputes throughout Asian waters. China also has territorial disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines over the South China Sea, while squabbling has also resumed between Japan and Korea.

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-- Barbara Demick

Photo: Anti-Japanese protesters march in a rally Sunday in Chengdu, in southwest China's Sichuan province. Credit: He Yuan / EPA 

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