Japanese Expats Face Animosity in China

Japanese expatriates went into hiding yesterday as the anniversary of the Mukden incident invoked angry demonstrations against the Japanese.

Many Japanese-owned businesses temporarily closed their doors as angry Chinese citizens stormed the streets, vandalizing Japanese-made cars, and smashing up sushi bars and calling for all Japanese goods and services to be boycotted.

Relations between Japan and China recently hit an all time low last week when Japan announced that they would be purchasing Diaoyu (Senkaku in Japanese), an uninhabited group of islands that lie in the East China Sea. The anniversary of the Mukeden incident, in which Japan bombed a railway and was accused of using this as a pretext to invading and occupying Manchuria, spurred further angry protests and demonstrators outside the Japanese consulate could be heard shouting: “Kill all Japanese” and “Destroy all the Japanese dogs”.

In response, expats throughout the country went into hiding, many fearing for their lives, and schools and businesses were closed. Clothing brand Uniqlo shut almost a quarter of their stores, electronics group Panasonic were forced to close one of their factories after it was sabotaged by Chinese workers and camera manufacturer Canon stopped production citing concerns over employees’ safety.

While Beijing appears to have given tacit approval to its citizen’s actions, many people are growing increasingly concerned that the protests may get out of hand.

Hostile relations between the two countries deepened last week when the Japanese bought three of five disputed islands in the South China Sea. The islands are deemed to be of strategic importance and are surrounded by abundant fishing grounds. Many people also believe that they may be located near to valuable gas reserves. In response to Japan’s actions, Chinese vessels were sent to the waters surrounding the islands and the Chinese foreign ministry publicly criticized the Japanese: “The unlawful landing of the Japanese right-wingers on the Chinese territory of the Diaoyu islands was a gravely provocative action violating Chinese territorial sovereignty.”

China’s defense chief, Liang Guanglie, added: “We pay close attention to the development of the issue and we reserve the right to take further actions, but we hope the issue will be properly resolved through peaceful ways and negotiations.”

Japanese officials defended their actions, claiming that they had purchased the items in a bid to prevent the nationalist governor of Tokyo from purchasing them and developing them. After holding private talks with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba revealed that Tokyo and Washington had agreed that the disputed islets were covered by the Japan-US security treaty:

“I did not bring up the topic today, but it is mutually understood between Japan and the United States that (the islands) are covered by the treaty.”