As recent anti-Japan protests turned violent, police and government officials in China advised Japanese companies to display pro-China messages or Chinese flags to avoid becoming targets of the protesters.
Now, questions of whether--and to what extent--those companies complied has caused a wave of confusion and anger among consumers in Japan.
The protests, which saw Japanese businesses and factories across China attacked, centered on the continuing dispute between the two countries over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu by China.
Japanese casual clothing store Uniqlo has faced particularly strong outcry over its apparent response to the protests.
On Sept. 15, a photo surfaced of one of its outlets in Shanghai displaying a sign which read, "We support the claim that the Diaoyu Islands are inherently China's territory."
The sign was posted in the display window of the store's fall fashion line, and remained there for about 40 minutes.
The photo was widely circulated on the Internet, and Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing Co. said its head office in Japan had received about 1,400 inquiries and complaints from Japanese consumers, by both e-mail and telephone, as of Sept. 19.
Despite the outcry, Tadashi Yanai, chairman and president of the company, said Sept. 20 that the company will not alter its plans for increasing business operations in China, but added that the company wants to clear up any confusion over the matter.
"False information was circulated (on the Internet), prompting this criticism. We have been inundated with protests," Yanai said. "We want to explain the facts and dispel any misconceptions."
According to a company spokesperson, the Shanghai store did not obey instructions by local police to post a pro-China sign for its own safety. The official said the decision was based on company policy that a store "shall not take any political stance or voice opinions on diplomatic matters."
However, when anti-Japan demonstrations intensified on the morning of Sept. 15, the store was warned again that its "security would not be guaranteed," prompting the store manager to post the sign at the manager's own discretion, the company official said.
The sign was removed at around 12:40 p.m., once the protesters were gone.
Uniqlo is not alone in being cautioned by local authorities about anti-Japan rallies.
In Beijing, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China, which is made up of Japanese companies, was visited by local government officials who recommended that they "come up with ideas, such as displaying a Chinese national flag" to protect their premises.
Afraid of becoming the target of protesters, some Japanese car dealers posted signs declaring, "Diaoyu Islands belong to China!"
Anti-Japan rallies also affected the major German automobile company Audi AG, as it, too, had to deal with an image on the Internet.
The picture, taken at its dealership in northern China, shows 14 smiling local employees hoisting a banner which read, "We must kill every single Japanese person, even if all Chinese die for that!"
The Japan arm of Audi said it received a flood of inquiries and complaints, saying, "Tell me the facts," or "Who ordered this?"
Audi Japan posted a statement on Sept. 18 on its website, part of which reads, "Employees of a dealership acted on their own discretion."
It also added the German headquarters' view that such an act was completely unacceptable.
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