'Japan-China ties must survive island feud'

2012-08-20 09:01
A man takes photos of an overturned Japanese car with his mobile phone after an anti-Japan protest in China. (Vincent Yu, AP)

A man takes photos of an overturned Japanese car with his mobile phone after an anti-Japan protest in China. (Vincent Yu, AP)

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Tokyo - Japan urged China on Monday to protect its citizens after anti-Japanese protests rocked Chinese cities on the weekend, and stressed that a feud over disputed islands in the East China Sea should not damage ties between Asia's two biggest economies.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Chinese cities on Sunday, with groups overturning Japanese cars and shouting slogans denouncing Japan's claims to the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

The demonstrations came after 10 Japanese nationalists swam to the islands on Sunday in a tit-for-tat move following a similar landing by Chinese activists last week.

Both China's government, which faces a once-in-a-decade leadership change later this year, and Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, whose ratings have tanked since he took office last September and may be forced to call an election soon, are under domestic pressure to take a tough stance over the islands.

"Both countries do not want the Senkaku issue to affect overall bilateral ties. The Sino-Japanese relationship is one of the most important bilateral ties for Japan, and it is indispensable for the stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region for China to play a constructive role," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference.

"We would like to continue to deepen mutually beneficial relations between Japan and China, keeping a broader perspective in mind," Fujimura said.

Bitter memories


"Regarding the protests in China, we are asking, above all, to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals [in China]."

The anti-Japanese protests in part reflect bitter Chinese memories of Japan's occupation of large parts of China in the 1930s and 1940s.

Chinese mainstream media were critical of Japan, but some also suggested that violent protest was not the way to go.

"Japan has made a series of mistakes in the Diaoyu Island issue, and has hurt the Chinese people's feelings," said the China Youth Daily.

"The young people's patriotism is laudable ... but for a selected number of those who are smashing their fellows' vehicles, damaging public property - that shows foolishness. This severely disrupts social order, injures the cities' image, and furthermore, affected China's image."

Japan, eager to keep the feud from escalating, deported the Chinese activists within days. The fate of the Japanese protesters remains undecided, with the group meeting Chinese police on Monday.

'Something to lose'

With economic ties deeper than ever, both China and Japan are likely to want to try to keep the feud from spiralling out of control, experts said.

"On a rational basis, both sides have a lot to lose if this escalates. On the other hand, both have something to lose if they don't appear strong and assertive," said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University's Tokyo campus.

"I think the ball is in China's court," he said. "My guess is that they want to put a cap on it. Whether they can do so is another matter."

Read more on:    china  |  japan
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