BEIJING--A man ripped a Japanese flag from a car carrying Japan's ambassador in Beijing on Aug. 27, triggering a protest from Tokyo in the latest flare-up of a territorial row that provoked the worst anti-Japanese protests in years.
The Japanese Embassy issued a statement saying the ambassador, Uichiro Niwa, was unhurt in the incident. It said two other vehicles forced his car to stop and a man got out, broke off the Japanese flag and made off with it.
But Japan's Foreign Ministry later said the flag had been snatched after the ambassador's car had become stuck in a traffic jam. A ministry spokesman said it would be too strong to describe the incident as an attack.
Both Japanese accounts said no one was injured and the car was otherwise undamaged.
The embassy said it had "filed a strong protest with the Chinese Foreign Ministry." It said that in response a senior ministry official called the incident "extremely regrettable" and pledged efforts to ensure the safety of Japanese citizens and businesses in China.
The incident occurred amid heightened tensions over disputed islands since mid-August, when the Japanese coast guard detained Chinese activists who sailed from Hong Kong and landed on the islands. Anti-Japanese demonstrations have taken place in Chinese cities over the past two weekends.
An image of the assault appeared on the Internet, but censors swiftly removed it. The photo was apparently taken from a nearby car around the time the man snatched the flag.
It disappeared at around 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 27, two and a half hours after the incident took place, said people who viewed it.
Observers said the rapid response could be a sign that Chinese authorities are trying to prevent developments that might fuel anti-Japanese sentiment.
"Relevant authorities are investigating the case seriously," China's Foreign Ministry said of the assault on the night of Aug. 27, in a statement carried by the official Xinhua News Agency. "The Chinese government has always observed conscientiously the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and has protected the safety of foreign embassies in China and their personnel," it said.
The nationalist-leaning Global Times, a Chinese newspaper on global affairs that commands broad influence on public opinion, denounced the incident in an Aug. 28 editorial. The assailant's act was "stupid" and could "sour the image of the Chinese public and the nation," it wrote.
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