Japan cannot remain idle if Chinese fishing boats arrive near the Senkaku Islands, an intrusion that could bring the dispute to a new level, an aide to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said.
The Japanese government has so far refrained from taking provocative action over the anti-Japan demonstrations that have spread across China. But reports that a large number of Chinese fishing vessels were heading toward the disputed islands in the East China Sea on Sept. 17 have exacerbated concerns in the Noda administration.
An approaching typhoon thwarted Chinese fishermen’s plan to go to the islands on Sept. 16, when the Chinese government lifted a ban on fishing in the East China Sea. But that plan was apparently revived the following day.
When asked about Japan’s preparation for “any possible contingency,” Noda on Sept. 16 instructed bureaucrats to “deal with the situation based on Japanese law.”
“The government is taking a wait-and-see approach for the moment. But we will not be able to sit by idly if fishing vessels reach the Senkaku Islands in large numbers,” the aide to Noda said. “It could lead to a new stage.”
Government officials fear that Japan may be forced to arrest the captains of the Chinese fishing boats if they enter Japan’s territorial waters. If the Japan Coast Guard, which is primarily responsible for patrolling, cannot control the situation around the uninhabited islands, the Japanese government might be forced to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces.
Either response would likely anger Beijing and fuel anti-Japanese sentiment in China.
The protests erupted in China after the Japanese government bought three of the disputed islands from a private landowner in Saitama Prefecture. In some cities, looting, vandalism and other acts of destruction against Japanese products and interests have been reported.
As the demonstrations escalated on Sept. 16, Uichiro Niwa, the Japanese ambassador to China, repeated Japan’s request to the Chinese foreign ministry to take all necessary steps to protect Japanese in the country from the violence.
“We are urging China to ensure the safety of Japanese citizens and Japanese companies,” Noda said on a program aired by Japan Broadcasting Corp. on Sept. 16.
The prime minister also stressed the importance of making a “calm response that is aimed at deepening strategic, mutually beneficial relations.”
The Japanese Foreign Ministry has not issued a warning against travel to China. But its website is urging Japanese travelers in China to take precautions, citing the mass anti-Japan demonstrations expected on Sept. 18, the 81st anniversary of the bombing that led to the Manchurian Incident, when Japanese forces invaded northeastern China.
Tokyo has only issued requests to Beijing about the anti-Japan demonstrations, worried that a more aggressive response could further aggravate relations with China, government sources said.
“We are making sure to avoid an armed conflict,” a Cabinet member said.
In China itself, fears are rising among Japanese companies.
Local police notified the president of a Japanese company in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, about protest-related damage to factories operated by Japanese companies in the city on Sept. 15.
“I cannot believe production facilities at factories were destroyed,” the president said on Sept. 16.
In one case, a labor dispute drew thousands of anti-Japan protesters following the Japanese government’s purchase on Sept. 11 of the three islets.
Local police advised the president to instruct employees to stay home for some time, saying some Chinese may resort to violence if they see Japanese citizens.
At some 7-Eleven convenience stores in Beijing, staff removed from the shelves chocolate, beer and other products made by Japanese-affiliated companies, as well as cosmetics imported from Japan.
“We took them off at the order of our headquarters,” a sales clerk said. “We don’t know when we will put them back.”
Some Japanese businesses, including the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ’s branch in Beijing, have hidden their sign boards and ads from public view to avoid becoming the target of looters and vandals.
Others have suspended operations until at least Sept. 18.
Canon Inc., which manufactures digital cameras and copiers in China, closed three key factories on Sept. 17 and 18. Each plant employs thousands of workers.
“(The step) is to ensure the safety of all employees, including Chinese,” said a Canon official.
The official said local authorities suggested the company suspend operations at its factory in Zhuhai. Other Japanese companies operating in the area are believed to have received similar advice.
Many Japanese companies are calling on their employees to stay alert.
Hitachi Ltd. in late August issued an in-house advisory for its Japanese employees in China not to walk alone if possible and not to speak Japanese out loud in public.
Sharp Corp. on Sept. 13 instructed its employees in China not to venture outside unless it is absolutely necessary, while Olympus Corp. began restricting business trips to China on Sept. 14.
(Keiko Yoshioka in Beijing contributed to this article.)
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