Major Japanese brandname firms announced factory shutdowns in China yesterday and urged expatriates to stay indoors ahead of what could be more angry protests over a territorial dispute between Asia’s two biggest economies.
China’s worst outbreak of anti-Japan sentiment in decades led to weekend demonstrations and violent attacks on well-known Japanese businesses such as car makers Toyota and Honda, forcing frightened Japanese into hiding and prompting Chinese state media to warn that trade relations could now be in jeopardy.
“I’m not going out today and I’ve asked my Chinese boyfriend to be with me all day tomorrow,” said Sayo Morimoto, a 29-year-old Japanese graduate student at a university in Shenzhen.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said the government would protect Japanese firms and citizens and called for protesters to obey the law.
“The gravely destructive consequences of Japan’s illegal purchase of the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) are steadily emerging, and the responsibility for this should be borne by Japan,” he told a daily news briefing.
The islands, called the Senkakus in Japan, are also claimed by Taiwan.
“The course of developments will depend on whether or not Japan faces up to China’s solemn stance and whether or not it faces up to the calls for justice from the Chinese people and adopts a correct attitude and approach,” Hong said.
China and Japan, which generated two-way trade of US$345 billion last year, are arguing over the Diaoyutais, a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which are the source of a long-standing dispute that erupted last week when the Japanese government decided to buy three of them from a private Japanese owner. The move infuriated Beijing.
Yesterday, a flotilla of about 1,000 Chinese fishing boats was sailing for the islands.
The weekend protests mainly targeted Japanese diplomatic missions, but also shops, restaurants and car dealerships in at least five cities. Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co said arsonists had badly damaged their stores in Qingdao at the weekend.
However, Toyota said its factories and offices were operating as normal yesterday and that it had not ordered home its Japanese employees in China.
Honda will suspend production in China starting today for two days. Fast Retailing Co, Asia’s largest apparel retailer, said it had closed some of its Uniqlo outlets in China and may close yet more.
Japan’s top general retailer, Seven & I Holdings, said it would close 13 Ito Yokado supermarkets and 198 7-Eleven convenience stores in China today, while Sony Corp is discouraging non-essential travel to China.
Mazda Motor Corp will halt production at its Nanjing factory, which it jointly operates with Chongqing Changan Automobile Co and Ford Motor Co, for four days.
Japanese electronics group Panasonic said one of its plants had been sabotaged by Chinese workers and would remain closed through today — the anniversary of Japan’s 1931 occupation of parts of China, a date that Tokyo fears could trigger more anti-Japan sentiment.