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Why Chinese are protesting Japan again (+video)

Japan and China both gave vent this weekend to nationalism over the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute. But indications now are they want to keep the hostility in check. 

By Correspondent / August 20, 2012

In this Aug. 19 photo, anti-Japan protesters shout slogans in Harbin, in northeastern China's Heilongjiang province.



Taipei, Taiwan

Anti-Japan demonstrations erupted in China over the weekend, highlighting a sovereignty dispute between Asia’s two biggest economies ahead of a major leadership transition later this year for China.

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Chinese protesters overturn Japanese-made automobiles in response to Japanese protesters landing on disputed islands.

China is not stopping the anti-Japan demonstrations in an effort to appear confident at home, but neither Beijing or Tokyo show signs of allowing a return to the lows of 2005, when riots across China targeted Japanese shops and lasted for about a month.

“The Chinese government wants to show the Chinese people they are not taking a subtle approach on sovereignty issues, especially regarding Japan,” says Shi Yinhong, international relations professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing.

Since former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi left his post in 2006 after a series of actions that upset China, newer leaders in Tokyo have tried to get along with Beijing and its impossible-to-ignore global economic might.

But on Aug. 15, Japan arrested 14 activists and journalists from China, Hong Kong, and Macau who landed on the Senkaku Islands, which Japan claims. China and Taiwan also claim the East China Sea islets, which sit near fisheries and undersea oil tracts. The uninhabited islets are called the Diaoyu Islands in China and the Tiaoyutai in Taiwan.

Japan controls the islands 138 miles east of Taiwan and deported the activists on Aug. 17. Yesterday about 150 Japanese legislators and activists on 21 boats approached the islets in an apparent countermove against China.

Related demonstrations in cities around China raised reminders of much larger protests in 2005 over a Sino-Japanese series of flaps related to territory and World War II memories. News reports say that over the weekend some protesters destroyed Japanese-themed shops and Japanese made cars.

‘Tough acts abroad reap harvest at home’

Beijing, which wants to be seen at home as a rising superpower, used the events of the past week to bash Japan for political gain at home, analysts say.

Japan occupied China from 1937 to 1945. Modern Sino-Japanese territorial disputes include oil fields in the East China Sea as well as the Senkaku Islands. Those issues have fanned mass distrust of Japan among the Chinese population.

Chinese leaders must spare subtlety to prove their foreign policy mettle ahead of the Communist Party’s 18th National Congress later this year, says Lin Chong-pin, strategic studies professor with Tamkang University in Taiwan. The Congress will decide who takes the nation’s top leadership jobs.


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