Demonstrators in Shibuya. Photo from ehnmark’s Flickr photstream. Used under a Creative Commons license.
[Update: One of our pictures of a flag burning was apparently from an incident years ago. It has now been removed.]
Anti-China protestors gathered in Tokyo on Saturday to demonstrate against what Japan has seen as China’s overly aggressive response to the collision between a Chinese captain’s ship and Japanese coastguards in the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands area on 7th September.
A reported 2,700 demonstrators joined the protests in Tokyo’s Shibuya district in a show of nationalist fervour. However, Japan itself was also criticised by protestors for failing to take a firmer stance against its East Asian neighbour.
The protests were organised by Toshio Tamogami, a former Japanese chief of staff for the Self Defence Force, who dubbed China a “thief” and was quoted as saying, “[the] Senkaku Islands is Japan’s traditional territory. If we don’t protect it, China will make action to take it.”
One day prior, Japanese PM Naoto Kan call on China to act as a “responsible member of the international community”, expressing concern over the Middle Kingdom’s military build up and maritime activities in the East China Sea. However, in order to calm global fears over its military spending, earlier this year China announced the smallest annual increase in its defence budget for over 20 years, at 7.5%.
A diplomatic row kicked off after Japan detained Chinese captain Zhan Qixiong after his ship collided with Japanese coastguards near the islands, which both countries claim as their own sovereign territory. China demanded Zhan’s release, temporarily halted rare earth metals exports to Japan and cut diplomatic communication between the two nations. After two weeks of quarrelling, Zhan was released on 24th September.
No less than a day later, China demanded an apology and compensation from Japan, which was quickly rejected. In an official statement, China’s Foreign Ministry reiterated that it was “unlawful and invalid for Japan to detain, investigate or take any form of judicial measures against the Chinese fishermen and trawler.” Japan, however, claimed China’s demand was “unacceptable”, and Zhan himself was violating Japanese law by colliding with coastguards in the disputed islands.
Japan also followed this up by asking China to pay for the damage caused to the Japanese patrol boats after Zhan’s collision, and ordering two Chinese fishery patrol boats to move away from the disputed waters.
On Thursday, China itself released three Japanese citizens who had been held on suspicion of entering a restricted military zone, while a fourth remained in custody. The four employees of construction firm Fujita Corp were detained in Hebei province and investigated for allegedly illegally videotaping military targets while working on a project to dispose of chemical weapons abandoned by the Japanese military at the end of World War Two.
Japan has urged China to release the fourth detainee. In response, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said China did not want the diplomatic spat with Japan to exacerbate, but asked Tokyo to stop making “irresponsible statements”. She added,
We are willing to resolve our disputes through friendly negotiations but the Chinese government’s and people’s will and resolve are unswerving on issues involving China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.