Protests against Japan broke out in more than a dozen Chinese cities, including Beijing, yesterday, as authorities allowed thousands of people to vent their anger over an escalating territorial row.
The demonstrations — which saw Japanese businesses, restaurants and cars targeted in some cities — erupted after Japanese nationalists landed on an island claimed by both countries.
The latest anti-Japan protests are believed to be the most widespread in China since 2005, when several cities saw demonstrations over a slew of grievances, including Japan’s wartime atrocities.
In Shenzhen, protesters waved Chinese flags and shouted slogans as they marched on major streets, with the numbers swelling to about 1,000, Xinhua news agency said. Protesters overturned a police car that was made in Japan and damaged a Japanese restaurant, it said.
Zhang Pei, one of the participants, said protesters were marching toward the train station on the border with Hong Kong.
“The demonstration is strung out for 7 to 8km. Many police are escorting us along the street,” he said by telephone.
Protests are usually swiftly put down in China, but one analyst said the government had an interest in allowing them to go ahead, for a time.
“They’re using the popular card to put pressure on Japan,” said Willy Lam (林和立), a China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The [Chinese Communist] Party leadership realizes nationalism is a double-edged sword. If they see a possibility of the protests escalating, they will give the signals to put an end to this.”
More than 100 people gathered near a complex housing the Japanese consulate in Guangzhou, chanting: “Japan get out of the Diaoyu Islands,” Xinhua reported.
China — which yesterday lodged a “strong protest” with Tokyo — calls the archipelago the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), but it is controlled by Japan, which calls it the Senkaku Islands.
Witnesses said demonstrations also took place in Shanghai and Chengdu, where protests shut down a Japanese department store and a branch of the Japanese clothing store Uniqlo.
Anti-Japan protests also occurred in Qingdao, on the east coast, as well as in Shenyang and Harbin.