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China-Japan island dispute fuels protests

Nationalist fervor by activists leads to vandalism and efforts to reach one isle.

August 20, 2012|Barbara Demick
  • Protesters in Chengdu, China, march Sunday in an anti-Japanese rally stemming from a long-standing dispute over uninhabited islands claimed by both countries. Chinese protesters rallied in more than a dozen cities.
Protesters in Chengdu, China, march Sunday in an anti-Japanese rally stemming… (He Yuan, EPA )

BEIJING — Angry youths on Sunday overturned cars and smashed shop windows in anti-Japanese protests across China stemming from a long-standing dispute over uninhabited islands claimed by both countries.

Not to be outdone in nationalist fervor, 150 Japanese activists tried to land on the islands in the East China Sea by boat Sunday to commemorate World War II deaths. When that failed, 10 of them swam to one of the rocky islands and tried to plant a Japanese flag.

The demonstrations in China were the largest since 2010, when a Chinese fishing captain whose boat collided with a Japanese coast guard vessel was arrested, leading to a protracted standoff.

The largest street protest was in Shenzhen, where thousands of people, mostly students, overturned Japanese-made police cars and smashed the windows of Japanese restaurants. Demonstrations also took place over the weekend in Chengdu, Xian and Jinan, among other Chinese cities, as well as in Hong Kong. Japanese chain stores including Uniqlo, which are wildly popular among young Chinese, were forced to close for the day.

"Japanese, get off our Diaoyu islands," read most of the banners, while others exhorted Chinese to "kill all the Japanese." The islands are known as Senkaku in Japan.

Photographs that circulated on Chinese microblogs during the day showed a young man with a metal pipe destroying a Honda police car. Another showed a demonstrator in an anti-Japanese T-shirt taking photographs -- with a Canon single-lens reflex camera. Canon is a Japanese company.

The Chinese government had periodically allowed anti-Japanese demonstrations, which appear to give the youth an opportunity to let off steam while displaying their patriot fervor. But the protests were usually kept under enough control to prevent serious casualties or property damage.

This time, the tit-for-tat displays of nationalism began when a group of Hong Kong activists landed on the same islands Wednesday, asserting China's territorial claim. Trying to avoid a repeat of the 2010 fishing boat incident, Japan released the Hong Kong activists within 48 hours.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry complained Sunday about the landing of the Japanese activists, but issued an otherwise mild reproof.

The day of protests and counter-protests comes amid a flare-up of disputes in Asian waters. China also has territorial disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea, and squabbling has also resumed between Japan and South Korea.

--

barbara.demick@latimes.com

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