Japanese firms doing business with China are taking precautionary measures following a raft of violent anti-Japanese rallies there over the weekend.
Tens of thousands of anti-Japanese demonstrators took the streets in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen last weekend, accusing Japan of distorting its wartime past in new textbooks and urging a boycott of Japanese products.
Japan’s largest retailer, Aeon Co., was forced to close its two Jusco stores, in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, around noon Sunday after demonstrators surrounded the shopping malls where the outlets are housed.
But the stores were not damaged and no one was injured, the company said. The outlets resumed operations as usual at 10 a.m. Monday without any ill effects, company officials said.
Aeon’s experience was typical of most of the Japanese companies affected by the weekend rallies, and most of them appear to be trying to maintain a low profile to avoid stirring up further anti-Japanese sentiment.
“For retail business, rumors alone are enough to cause severe damage,” Aeon President Motoya Okada said at a news conference Wednesday to announce its full-year earnings. “If Japanese stores are deemed dangerous by consumers, it will hurt their business.”
So far, the rallies’ impact on operations has been minimal, despite some of the companies being repeat targets.
Aeon, which operates nine outlets in mainland China and seven in Hong Kong, was targeted by demonstrators in Shenzhen a week earlier but emerged unaffected.
Ito-Yokado Co., whose outlet in Chengdu was also targeted by protesters the week before, said Sunday’s demonstrations did not damage any of its stores in China.
The retailer said its four outlets in Beijing and two in Chengdu were operating normally this past weekend.
On April 2, the windows at one of the two Chengdu stores was broken by an angry mob, forcing the company to pull down shutters on show windows just as a precaution Sunday, but there was no vandalism, company officials said.
The company said the demonstrations had no impact on sales at its Beijing stores, and its Chengdu outlets saw sales return to normal after the demonstrators left.
Honda Motor Co. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. are among firms telling their employees in Japan to refrain from nonurgent business trips to China.
“We are concerned over the (anti-Japanese) movement in China,” Honda President Takeo Fukui said at a news conference last week. “Although there has been no negative impact on our business, we will try to reduce the number of business trips to China.”
Toyota Motor Corp., which has 170 outlets in China, said the automaker has seen no negative impact on its operations.
“We are not in the position to comment on political matters between Japan and China,” Toyota spokesman Kazuhiko Ohora said Monday, adding that it is necessary to stay calm at the moment.
The tourism industry is also banking on the Chinese market to expand business.
JTB Corp., the nation’s largest travel agency, said there have been no injuries and their tours were operating as usual.
Although there might be some cancellations for trips to China, they are expected to be limited, JTB said.
“It’s not that Beijing as a whole is dangerous,” JTB spokesman Tsuguo Chihara said. “We are trying to convey to our customers accurate information on what is happening there,” to avoid stirring up travelers’ anxieties unnecessarily, he said.
But All Nippon Airways Co. said it has seen a slight increase in recent days of cancellations by individual travelers for April for its Narita-Beijing and Narita-Shanghai flights. The carrier operates 14 round-trip flights weekly to Beijing and 21 round-trip flights a week to Shanghai.
“We have yet to positively link the rise in cancellations to the recent rallies,” ANA spokesman Shinichi Shinkawa said, declining to disclose the actual number of cancellations. “But we are concerned about their (possible) effect on passengers and will continue to monitor the situation carefully.”
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