BEIJING--China is condoning boycotts and suggesting export restrictions against Japan as Beijing’s psychological warfare in the dispute over the Senkaku Islands shifts toward hurting the fragile Japanese economy.
Although Beijing has quelled the often-violent anti-Japan protests that rocked Chinese cities, government officials are taking a hard line toward China’s trade partner to the east.
China Central Television said Sept. 19 that the Ministry of Land and Resources will slash the number of companies licensed to mine rare earth elements by 40 percent from 113 to 67.
That policy was published six days earlier and the companies to be affected were informed in August. In addition, cutting the number of mining companies is not expected to directly affect rare earth exports to Japan.
However, the state-run broadcaster’s report could be taken as a warning of stronger measures against the Japanese government for its purchase of three of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea from a private owner on Sept. 11.
In 2010, China restricted exports of rare earths after Japan arrested the captain of a Chinese trawler that rammed two Japan Coast Guard patrol boats off the Senkaku Islands.
China produces an estimated 90 percent of the world’s rare earth minerals, and the restrictions dealt a blow to Japanese manufacturers, which depend on the elements for a wide range of high-tech products, such as hybrid vehicles. Japan released the Chinese skipper soon after the ban was imposed.
China Central Television has also repeatedly reported that consumers are shunning Japanese goods.
On Sept. 19, Shen Danyang, a Commerce Ministry spokesman, said the government will condone a consumer boycott of Japanese products, echoing the view expressed by Vice Commerce Minister Jiang Zengwei six days earlier.
In another announcement apparently aimed at rattling Japan, the Chinese Agriculture Ministry’s Fisheries Bureau said Sept. 19 that more than 700 Chinese boats are fishing within 127 nautical miles, or 235 kilometers, from the Senkaku Islands.
Japan was already on edge about 1,000 fishing boats reportedly heading for the islets after China lifted a summer fishing moratorium for the East China Sea on Sept. 16.
The message was also perhaps directed at the Chinese public, which are calling for a firm stand against Japan.
Chinese government ships have been navigating around the Senkakus, sometimes intruding into Japanese territorial waters, and a government-affiliated publishing house said Sept. 18 that a map dedicated to the islands called Diaoyu in China has been completed.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, widely expected to be promoted to president in autumn, also showed a tough stance against Japan.
In a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Sept. 19, Xi criticized the Japanese government’s purchase of the islands as “a farce.”
“Japan should draw in its reins before falling off a cliff and stop all the mistakes that undermine China's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Xi was quoted as saying.
On Sept. 19, reports emerged that hotels in Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces have refused to accept members of a Japan-China friendship association from Nagano Prefecture.
But China is not necessarily committed to a blanket hard-line approach.
China is still preparing to hold a reception in Beijing on Sept. 27 as scheduled to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries, according to sources involved.
“What is important is whether Japan responds to the voice of China,” Hong Lei, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said.
Beijing may also be suggesting countermeasures to seek public understanding for its new policy to rein in the anti-Japanese demonstrations that had spread around the country.
Beijing’s public security authorities said in a cellphone message to citizens on Sept. 19 that it has prohibited demonstrations in front of the Japanese Embassy.
No groups of protesters were seen in front of the embassy on that day, and subways skipped the nearest station to the embassy throughout the day.
In Qingdao, Shandong province, protesters attacked Japanese-affiliated companies, including a supermarket, on Sept. 15. Municipal public security officials said Sept. 19 that they detained six people and plan to file robbery and other criminal charges.
The policy change on anti-Japanese demonstrations apparently came out of fear that a further escalation would tarnish China’s international image.
On Sept. 18, the vehicle carrying U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke was surrounded by about 50 anti-Japanese protesters in Beijing, according to the U.S. Embassy in China. Locke was unhurt, but the vehicle was damaged.
(This article was written by Nozomu Hayashi and Keiko Yoshioka in Beijing.)
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