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Tensions rise between China and Japan over disputed islands

Sporadic, violent protests against Japanese businesses broke out across China this weekend after the Japanese government announced that it had purchased from private Japanese owners islands that are claimed by China.  

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The scale and violence are the worst in recurring waves of anti-Japanese protests since 2005, when lingering grievances over Japan's occupation of parts of China in the 1930s through World War II brought Chinese into the streets. Since then, China's economy has supplanted Japan's as the world's second largest and its diplomatic clout and military firepower have soared. State broadcaster China Central Television on Sunday showed Chinese naval forces conducting firing drills in the East China Sea, though it did not give a date for the exercises.

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Tensions have been growing for months over the East China Sea islands, since a right-wing nationalist Japanese politician vowed to buy them from their private owners to better protect them from Chinese encroachment. When the Japanese government purchased the islands this week to keep them out of the politician's hands, China reacted angrily, sending marine patrol ships inside Japanese-claimed waters around the islands.

State media, which answer to the ruling Communist Party, joined ordinary Chinese in calling for boycotts of Japanese goods. One regional newspaper ran a list of well-known Japanese brands along with calls for a boycott. China Central Television halted advertisements for Japanese products on two of its main channels over the weekend, according to China National Radio.

Nissan President and CEO Carlos Ghosn told reporters in Hong Kong last week that though so far the dispute had not had a discernible impact on sales in China, it might if it degenerates "into something more serious."

Imports from Japan are off 6 percent so far this year compared with the first eight months of last year, according to Chinese government figures.

A manager of a Sony laptop store in Shanghai said fewer people were coming into his shop. "We sold more than 100 last month, while in these 13 days in September, we sold fewer than 10," manager Yan Long said last week. "We all know these products are made in China, but with a Japanese brand, but it's just the way it is."

Calls for boycotts in previous rounds of China-Japan tensions have fizzled, so it's unclear whether this time will be any different. The Japanese and Chinese economies have robust trade and economic ties, and Japan is a major investor, its businesses providing jobs in manufacturing and services. A boycott or trade fight would likely hurt the Chinese economy at a time its growth is rapidly slowing and the Chinese leadership is worried about civil unrest.

At a Guomei electronics store in Beijing — teeming with flat-screen TVs, cameras and stereo systems — consumers seemed divided. "We should ban their products," fumed 70-year-old former soldier Sun Zhiyi as he left the store. "Japan's ambition is growing bigger and bigger. Our government is too weak."

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