Anti-Japan Violence Further Strains Japan-China Relations

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Relations between East Asia's two rising powers took a new dip at the weekend with the spread of anti-Japanese protests in Chinese cities. The protests stemmed from accusations that Japan is glossing over wartime abuses, but they also focused on Tokyo's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Beijing late Sunday denied responsibility for the deteriorating bilateral relations, after Japan lodged formal complaints with Chinese diplomats over the protests.

More than 20,000 Chinese took part in demonstrations in Beijing on Saturday and in the southern cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou on Sunday, in which projectiles were thrown at Japanese missions and other buildings, and Japanese flags were burned.

The protests were described as the largest in China since 1999, when demonstrations targeted the U.S. after NATO forces accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

Like that incident, the latest ones are widely regarded as government-condoned: In a country where unauthorized demonstrations have ended in bloodshed, Chinese police reportedly made no attempt to prevent or break up the protests.

China and Japan established diplomatic relations in 1972 and have become major trading partners. But simmering resentments over Japanese atrocities during the first half of last century boil over occasionally, triggered by Japanese actions China sees as insensitive.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has paid several visits to an official Shinto shrine to Japan's millions of war dead, including a small group of war criminals.

The latest surge of anti-Japanese sentiment comes after Japan approved a textbook for use in some middle schools, which critics say plays down atrocities that occurred during Japan's 1931-1945 occupation of much of China. For instance, while historians tend to call the 1937 killings of more than 250,000 Chinese civilians by Japanese troops in the city of Nanjing as a "massacre," the controversial textbook calls it an "incident."

Other, more current disagreements arise from Japan's wariness of China's military modernization and buildup; Chinese suspicions of Japan's move towards a more vigorous military role in the region and beyond; as well as territorial disputes.

Those issues flared up when China sent a nuclear submarine into Japanese waters near disputed gas reserves last November, and again when Japan and the U.S. issued a joint security statement in February listing peace in Taiwan as a "common strategic objective." China accused the two of meddling in its internal affairs.

The weekend protests, which came days after earlier, smaller demonstrations in other Chinese cities, come at a time Japan is pressing home its longstanding claim for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

A process of U.N. reform now under debate envisages changes to the council to make it larger and more reflective of 21st century global realities.

China, the only Asian country on the council, opposes a seat for Japan, while the U.S. has given its ally its blessing.

An online petition - ostensibly a private initiative but given considerable coverage in Chinese state-controlled media - claims to have garnered more than 24 million signatures of people opposed to Japan's bid.

The protests in China were marked by demonstrators shouting slogans denouncing Japan's candidacy.

"Smash Japan's daydream of seeking a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council," official Chinese media quoted demonstrators as chanting.

Apology demanded

According to the Japanese embassy in the capital, about 20 glass panes at the mission were broken along with several more at the ambassador's residence. Protests also threw stones and bottles at a Japanese restaurant and bank branch and reportedly overturned a car.

Incidents in other cities including more stone-throwing, and two Japanese students were assaulted at a Shanghai restaurant.

Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura summoned Chinese Ambassador Wang Yi to lodge a formal protest and seek an apology for the protests and to demand compensation for damage caused to the embassy and ambassador's residence in Beijing.

The minister, who called on China to protect Japanese citizens and prevent a recurrence of the violence, told reporters afterwards the incidents were "indeed a serious problem."

He said the ambassador had not apologized, but called on both sides to be "level-headed." Wang said after the meeting that his government did not endorse violent actions.

Later, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said responsibility for the state of bilateral ties did not lie with China.

"Japan must adopt an earnest attitude and appropriate ways to deal with major principled issues concerning the feelings of the Chinese people," Xinhua news agency quoted Qin as saying.

"The Japanese have to do more things conducive to enhancing mutual trust and maintaining the relations between the two countries, rather than doing the reverse."

Qin said the Chinese government had appealed to demonstrators to remain calm and express their views in an orderly manner.

\tx1080 The two countries' foreign ministers are scheduled to hold talks next Sunday.

The Japanese textbook episode has also upset many people in South Korea, where the Korea Herald called the newly-approved book a "brazen glorification of Japan's colonial expansion and an intentional neglect of its atrocities, such as forced labor practices and sexual slavery."

Japan occupied and annexed the Korean peninsula from 1910-1945.

The U.S. State Department has responded cautiously to the textbook issue, saying in a statement last week it was aware of the concerns raised by countries in the region.

"It is unfortunate that such controversies continue to persist," it said. "We hope that these nations will find a mutually satisfactory and amicable solution to this issue."

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow