Anti-Japan Protests Jar an Uneasy Asia ; Demonstrations Spread from Beijing to Several Southern Cities Sunday
Robert Marquand writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
At a time of increased tensions between East Asia's two largest powers, Japan's foreign minister Sunday summoned China's ambassador, following one of the most provocative anti-Japanese demonstrations in many years in China.
In Beijing Saturday, thousands of jeering Chinese mobbed riot police outside the Japanese Embassy, throwing eggs and rocks. Protest spread to several large cities in the south Sunday, as Chinese massed outside Japanese stores and consulates, calling for a boycott of Japanese products and demanding that Japan own up to war crimes of 60 years ago.
The underlying cause of the protests is widely regarded to be a growing fear in Beijing that rival Japan may become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, should UN reform proposals be adopted in September. Washington recently began openly backing Japan's longstanding bid for a seat.
That brought a swift response from Beijing. An Internet petition against the move, for example, held partly on the official Xinhua news website, got 25 million signatures.
While China may regard the demonstrations as part of a larger strategy to thwart Japan's UN bid, the outbursts play into a deepening apprehension in Japan over its vulnerability in a region with a nuclear North Korea and a more powerful China.
The unusually vitriolic protests "create uncertainty about Beijing at a time when China is rising economically and militarily," one diplomatic source notes.
Japan's ambassador to China, Anami Koreshige, said the incident was "gravely regrettable" and called on Chinese authorities to protect Japanese citizens and businesses, as well as the embassy and other consulates in China. Japan's NHK channel has covered the protests extensively.
Beijing is widely thought to have tacitly supported the protests. Yet popular anger against Japan is so raw that it takes little effort to spark.
Japan's obdurate denial of its wartime past deeply offends China and South Korea. Last week, Tokyo officially approved a history text that is a "brazen glorification of Japan's colonial expansion," notes the Korea Herald. In Beijing many protesters, including Wan Ping, a Tsinghua University student, said that "Japan is not ready to be on the Security Council if it lies to its people about history."
List of grievances grows
Recent months have brought a list of grievances between China and Tokyo. Along with the Security Council bid and the history textbook, Japan stated on the Chinese Lunar New Year that the Senkaku Islands were officially Japanese. In February, Japan and the US declared a closer military bond. Last summer tensions rose as Japan defeated China at the Asia Cup soccer games in Beijing.
In the southern city of Shenzhen Sunday, about 10,000 protesters surrounded a Japanese-run Jasco supermarket and threw water bottles, the Associated Press reported. And in Guangzhou, about 3,000 people marched toward the Japanese Consulate General, though police prevented demonstrators from getting too close. Hong Kong Cable Television also showed a large crowd protesting outside a shopping center in the city. …