China is ramping up customs inspections for Japanese products arriving at its ports, firms said Friday as the diplomatic row over the disputed Senkaku Islands appeared to spill over into trade ties.
Chinese state media earlier in the week threatened economic retribution over Japan’s nationalization of the islets, which Beijing calls Diaoyu.
“We’ve heard from our staff in China that some Japanese products arriving in Chinese ports are facing a tightening of customs procedures,” Tsutomu Suehara, a spokesman for the Sojitz trading house, said. However, he added that “it’s not to the extent that it affects our business.”
Chinese customs took a similar measure in 2010 when ties soured over the arrest of a Chinese fisherman who rammed two Japan Coast Guard cutters.
At the time, Beijing also imposed an export quota on rare earth metals — vital components in high-tech products ranging from flat-screen televisions to lasers and hybrid cars. China controls more than 95 percent of the global rare earths market.
“Compared with 2010, when all Japanese products were targeted, this time the affected products are a lot fewer,” Suehara said.
Sojitz had been told tighter inspections were occurring in the ports of Tianjin and Qingdao, he said.
Itochu Corp. said it also received information that customs inspections were rising.
“We heard that inspections of freight from Japan are being tightened in Tianjin, Qingdao and other major ports,” an Itochu spokesman said.
Asked about the heightened inspections, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yukio Edano said he expects China “to act in line with international rules.”
“We continue to gather information and are trying to confirm the facts. We will take appropriate measures depending on the situation,” he said.
A Japanese newspaper reported that Chinese customs officials were boosting inspections in Tianjin, near Beijing, while another reported that freight was backing up in Shanghai due to a stricter regime.
“If Shanghai starts tightening inspections that would have a grave impact on Japanese firms, as the trading volume and the variety of items passing through there are a lot bigger than other ports,” Suehara of Sojitz said.
Despite conducting two-way trade worth $342.9 billion last year, according to Chinese figures, relations between Asia’s two largest economies are often rocky, with historical grievances often rising to the surface.