Beijing: Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping denounced Japan’s decision to buy disputed islands as a farce on Wednesday and said Tokyo should “rein in its behaviour” as China moved to snuff out anti-Japan protests after days of demonstrations.
Relations between Asia’s two biggest economies have faltered badly, hitting their lowest point in decades on Tuesday when China marked the highly charged anniversary of Japan’s 1931 occupation of its giant neighbour.
Tension had run high on land and at sea, with four days of major protests in cities across China and Japanese and Chinese boats stalking each other in waters around a group of East China Sea islands, known by Japan as the Senkaku and by China as the Diaoyu.
“Japan should rein in its behaviour and stop any words and acts that undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Xi said in a meeting with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, according to Xinhua news agency.
Xi is tipped to replace Hu Jintao as party chief later this year.
Tokyo’s nationalist governor, Shintaro Ishihara, floated a plan for metropolitan authorities to buy the islets, prompting Japan’s government to buy them instead in a bid to defuse the crisis.
“If Japan yields to China on this problem … China’s hegemony in Asian waters would easily be established,” Ishihara told the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.
Japanese businesses shut hundreds of stores and factories across China, some sending workers back to Japan in fear the protests would get out of hand. Japan’s Beijing embassy had been under siege by protesters throwing water bottles, waving Chinese flags and chanting slogans evoking Japan’s occupation.
“It seems the protests in front of our embassy have subsided,” the embassy said in an email to Japanese citizens.
Outside the embassy, police moved on a lone protester who had been shouting “Defeat small Japan” early on Wednesday.
To prevent a repeat of the protests, large numbers of riot police were deployed around the embassy and Beijing’s subway operator closed the station nearest to the Japanese mission.
On Tuesday, about 50 Chinese protesters surrounded and damaged a car carrying U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, embassy spokesman Nolan Barkhouse said. The incident happened outside the U.S. embassy, which is close to the Japanese embassy.
“Embassy officials have registered their concern about yesterday’s incident with the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs and urged the Chinese government to do everything possible to protect American facilities and personnel,” Barkhouse said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said it was “an individual case” which would be investigated.
Rowdy protests sprang up on the same day in other major cities including Shanghai, raising the risk they could get out of hand and backfire on Beijing, which had given its tacit approval through state media. One Hong Kong newspaper said some protesters in the southern city of Shenzhen had been detained for calling for democracy and human rights.
Tuesday was especially significant as China marked the day Japan began its 1931 occupation of parts of the mainland.
Sino-Japanese ties have long been plagued by China’s bitter memories of Japan’s military aggression in the 1930s and 1940s and present rivalry over resources. The disputed islands are believed to be surrounded by large energy reserves.
Panetta said Washington was concerned that these “disputes could lead to greater conflicts and to greater violence”.
“I understand the deep wounds that China suffered during World War Two,” Panetta told Chinese military cadets. “But at the same time we cannot live in the past.”