19 September 2012Thousands of anti-Japan protesters rallied across China over a territorial row yesterday, a key historical anniversary, as Japanese firms including car giant Toyota shut or scaled back production.
The demonstrations came after several days of protests, some of them violent, over disputed islands in the East China Sea that have raised international concerns and fears of conflict between two of the world’s top three economies.
The islets, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, are uninhabited but situated in rich fishing waters and said to sit atop valuable natural resources. They are controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.
Toyota, the world’s second biggest automaker, declined to offer specifics on shutdowns at its three assembly plants and six other factories in China, saying only that it viewed “employees’ safety to be top priority.”
Honda Motor, which makes about 970,000 vehicles a year in China, said it had closed all five of its plants in the country for yesterday and today, while Nissan, which has China as its biggest market, temporarily shut two of three factories.
Yesterday marked the Sept. 18, 1931 “Mukden Incident” in which Japanese soldiers blew up a railway in Manchuria as a pretext to take control of the entire northeastern region, which is commemorated every year in China.
Armed police were deployed in force at protests across the country, with some marchers carrying portraits of longtime leader Mao Zedong and urging Beijing to stand up to its historic rival. Outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing more than 1,000 protesters faced off against riot police six rows deep.
In the commercial hub of Shanghai hundreds of riot police blocked off roads leading to the Japanese consulate, while hundreds of protesters rallied outside the building, carrying flags, banners and images of Mao. China has also withdrawn all its badminton players from this week’s Japan Open, citing safety fears.