Chinese authorities struggle to keep lid on anti-Japanese protests

September 19, 2012


Raging anti-Japan rallies appeared to spread to more than 100 cities across China on Sept. 18 even as authorities tried to tamp down the flare-up, amid signs the protests may be hard to control quickly.

In some cases, demonstrators clashed with police. In Shanghai, police tried to transport protesters in buses to avoid a confrontation, but some in the crowd turned on officers.

Demonstrators oppose Japan's administration of the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by both China and Taiwan; China calls them Diaoyu. The cause has been whipped up by official statements and by China's state media, but official newspapers are now adjusting their tone.

Estimates of 100 city protests were culled from Internet reports in China and news reports in Hong Kong; witnesses described crowds of up to 10,000 in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang and Guangzhou.

The high number of cities involved largely reflected Sept. 18 being the anniversary of the 1931 bombing of Japan's South Manchurian Railway in Liutiaohu, which triggered the Manchurian Incident and led to a Japanese invasion.

Protesters threw rocks, plastic bottles and paint at the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, Liaoning province, cracking about 10 window panes. Shenyang is situated near Liutiaohu, where a bomb detonated by the Imperial Japanese Army provided the pretext for Japanese troops to move in.

In Beijing, protesters smashed six window panes at the Japanese Embassy.

Across China, police officers were out in larger numbers than in preceding days, but authorities were unable to prevent damage. Public security authorities in some cities took additional precautions to try to contain the protests.

In Beijing, citizens received e-mail messages on their cellphones asking that they comply with police instructions.

In Guangzhou, public security authorities posted eight photos on the Internet from previous protests showing men damaging property. They urged witnesses to provide information on the men to police.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 18, visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with National Defense Minister Liang Guanglie in Beijing. Reports from the Xinhua state news agency and other sources said Panetta called on China and Japan to resolve the dispute through dialogue.

Liang expressed strong opposition to having the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty applied to the Senkaku Islands. That treaty obliges the United States to come to Japan's aid if attacked.

Also Sept. 18, China's foreign ministry condemned the landing on the Senkakus earlier that day by two Japanese individuals.

"China reserves the right to implement further measures," it said in a statement seen as hinting at possible retaliation.


Chinese authorities faced problems containing the protests in part because of difficulty predicting what might trigger a violent outburst.

By the morning of Sept. 18, about 5,000 demonstrators had gathered outside Japan's Consulate General in Shenyang. While most of the protesters were young, the crowd also contained a few senior citizens.

Security forces wearing helmets ordered protesters to keep walking, and the crowd continued to move.

But it halted when a female employee appeared on a roof and began photographing the crowd.

"Come down from there," shouted a young man.

The crowd threw half-filled plastic bottles at the building's windows. A young woman bought cases of beer from a nearby retail outlet and began handing the bottles to her friends.

Some protesters began breaking bricks into chunks to more easily throw them. Others threw eggs, tomatoes and paint. Security forces tried to stop them, but failed. Cheers arose from the crowd at the sound of breaking glass.

In Shanghai, police used other tactics to contain the protests.

Demonstrators began gathering near the Bund, where the British settlement once stood, and at the People's Square. Police officers used loudspeakers to inform the crowd: "We will transport you to the Japanese Consulate General."

Police used about 20 large buses to shuttle young people to the consulate general. One aim appeared to be to avoid having the crowd walk through central Shanghai, where Japanese department stores are located.

However, several hundred people ignored the police instructions and started parading down a major boulevard. Officers began forcing them into police vehicles. The crowd's anger turned on the police, and protesters demanded the release of those detained. Scuffles broke out with officers as protesters seemingly were trying to help their friends.


There are signs that China's government is fretting over scenes of violence being broadcast around the world.

On Sept. 17, all newspapers carried commentary calling violence unpatriotic.

The following day, the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, ran a report insisting officials had the territorial dispute in hand.

"The party and government will handle relations with Japan in a proper manner and protect the interests of the nation and people," it wrote.

Resolving the territorial dispute through dialogue was also a message delivered by Panetta in his Sept. 18 meeting with Liang.

"It is in no country's interest for this situation to escalate into conflict that would undermine peace and stability in this very important region," Panetta said at a news conference following the talks.

He urged the two nations to keep open communications channels to help resolve the matter in a peaceful manner.

While the United States and China have often been at odds over human rights, Washington is nevertheless seeking to expand cooperation in areas that are mutually beneficial.

One high-ranking U.S. defense official said there was a need to intensify dialogue and thereby prevent bilateral misunderstandings.

Panetta also revealed that the Chinese Navy would for the first time be invited to participate in the RIMPAC joint military exercises scheduled for 2014.

Speaking at the news conference, Liang blamed Japan for the current controversy.

"I hope for an appropriate resolution through peaceful negotiations," he said.

Liang noted Japan's move to put the Senkakus in state ownership had brought the dispute to global attention.

"It has led people around the world to become very interested in the Diaoyu issue," he said.

China's foreign ministry has persistently pressed Japan to enter talks on the status of the Senkakus.

Chinese officials hope that being seen to negotiate with Japan will persuade domestic and international audiences of their claim.

In late September, world leaders will attend the United Nations General Assembly. If Japan's and China's foreign ministers meet, or if Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda holds talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, it could be a sign that Tokyo is ready to respond to Washington's call for dialogue.

(This article was compiled from reports by Nozomu Hayashi, Takashi Oshima and Kenji Minemura in Beijing, Koichiro Ishida in Shenyang and Atsushi Okudera in Shanghai.)

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Chinese police stand in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, Liaoning province, damaged and defaced by bricks, paint and plastic bottles on Sept. 18. (Koichiro Ishida)

Chinese police stand in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, Liaoning province, damaged and defaced by bricks, paint and plastic bottles on Sept. 18. (Koichiro Ishida)

  • Chinese police stand in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, Liaoning province, damaged and defaced by bricks, paint and plastic bottles on Sept. 18. (Koichiro Ishida)
  • Shanghai police transport protesters to the Japanese Consulate General on Sept. 18. (Atsushi Okudera)
  • Some participants at the Sept. 18 anti-Japanese demonstration in Guangzhou pass out leaflets expressing opposition to violence. (Kentaro Koyama)

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