June 20, 2013
China struggles to curb anger as protesters denounce Japan
Chinese police used pepper spray, tear gas and water cannon to break up an anti-Japan protest in southern China as demonstrators took to the streets in scores of cities across the country in a long-running row over a group of disputed islands.
The protests erupted in Beijing and many other cities on Saturday, when demonstrators besieged the Japanese embassy, hurling rocks, eggs and bottles and testing police cordons, prompting the Japanese prime minister to call on Beijing to ensure protection of his country's people and property.
In the biggest flare-up on Sunday, police fired about 20 rounds of tear gas and used water cannon and pepper spray to repel thousands occupying a street in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.
Protesters attacked a Japanese department store, grabbed police shields and knocked off their helmets. One protester was seen with blood on his face. At least one policeman was hit with a flowerpot.
Demonstrators have looted shops and attacked Japanese cars and restaurants in at least five Chinese cities. Protesters also broke into a dozen Japanese-run factories in eastern Qingdao on Saturday, according to the Japanese broadcaster NHK.
It added that the protests had spread to at least 72 cities.
"Regrettably, this is a problem concerning the safety of Japanese nationals and Japan-affiliated companies," Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told a talk show on NHK. "I would like to urge the Chinese government to protect their safety."
The protests, the latest setback in long-troubled relations between Beijing and Tokyo, followed Japan's decision on Tuesday to buy the disputed islands, which Tokyo calls the Senkaku and Beijing calls the Diaoyu and which could contain valuable gas reserves, from a private Japanese owner.
Beijing called that decision a provocative violation of its sovereignty.
China may have unleashed the protests to put pressure on Japan, but the government also risks a backlash from that same public anger ahead of a delicate leadership succession.
Many demonstrators in Beijing held aloft portraits of Mao Zedong, the late revolutionary leader who is still a patriotic icon - but one who can also serve as an implicit rebuke to present-day leaders.
"We think that the government has been too soft and we want to show it what we think," said one 25-year-old protester, salesman Zhang Xin. "I feel disappointed in the government and it doesn't heed our voice."