One year on from Senkakus flare-up, income disparities in China trump nationalistic fervor

Anti-Japan protests mark anniversary


Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the start of anti-Japanese protests that flared in many parts of China over the ownership of the Senkaku Islands, amid lingering Chinese frustration among the socially vulnerable over widening gaps between the rich and poor.

On Aug. 18, 2012, hundreds of people gathered in the central city of Xian and other places to protest Japan’s arrest of Chinese activists who landed on one of the uninhabited Japan-held islets in the East China Sea. China also claims the chain, which it calls Diaoyu.

The day saw the beginning of a series of such protests, which grew even more violent after the Japanese government purchased a significant part of the Senkakus from a private Saitama owner on Sept. 11, effectively nationalizing the entire chain.

Bilateral relations have remained frosty ever since because the islets, administrated by Japan for more than 100 years before last September’s purchase, have been claimed by China since the 1970s after a U.N. survey indicated there may be potentially rich petroleum reserves in the vicinity.

“I took part in one of the demonstrations because I felt that the Japanese government’s attitude was high-handed,” said a 29-year-old worker in the southern city of Shenzhen, who joined the protests. “I thought that I also need to let out my voice.”

Some of the demonstrations led to arson, looting and vandalism against Japanese factories, stores and restaurants operating in China.

The worker, however, said: “Destructive actions were taken by only some people. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful and staged for patriotic reasons.”

But a 23-year-old man in Shenzhen who did not take part in any of the protests had a different view, saying some people “just wanted to make a lot of noise. I don’t know whether they were really for anti-Japan purposes.”

Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, has received a huge influx of workers from rural areas amid its rapid growth since a special economic zone was set up in 1980.

“The rich are going to get richer, but a person like me who is from a poor farming village just needs to work hard every day,” said a 37-year-old woman who moved to the city more than a decade ago.

It is widely believed the reason behind the demonstrations — which were held largely with the tacit approval of Chinese authorities and developed into the largest of their kind since Tokyo and Beijing normalized diplomatic ties in 1972 — is not necessarily that many of those who jumped on the bandwagon are well aware of the history of the islands or are strongly anti-Japanese.

Rather, they are thought to have participated in the demonstrations to vent their frustration over widening income disparities.

As evidence of this, last year’s protests, which came at a politically sensitive time months ahead of China’s once-in-a-decade leadership change, in some cities turned into movements criticizing such issues as the Communist Party’s one-party rule and corruption in the bureaucracy.

There were no major protests on China’s streets after three ministers in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet on Thursday visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, where convicted and accused Japanese Class-A war criminals are honored along with the nation’s millions of war dead, on the 68th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.

But that does not assure there will be none in the near future, as Asia’s two biggest economies are still engaged in a bitter dispute over the Senkakus, with ships from both countries playing cat-and-mouse games around them.

“I will, of course, be part of a demonstration if there is one. Young people should stand up for China’s sovereignty,” said a 24-year-old man selling stationery items in Shenzhen.

But a 31-year-old man said, “The real issue here is not whether we want to take part (in anti-Japan protests) but whether the government allows them.”

  • iwishitweretrue

    Japan unilaterally and deliberately broke the 1970’s Diaoyu accord with China(Deng) and deliberately nationalised the islands. Since then Japan has made no attempt to mend the relationship – and the Japanese prime minister has publically backed war criminals at the Yasukuni Shrine – whose demonic aim is to glorify war and killing other people. Thus the current Japanese govt of Abe is seen by the Chinese as similar to the Japanese WW2 war mongering liars that almost destroyed Japan – and there is no way on earth that the Chinese will ever let the Japanese get away with it – and so its an extremely poor foreign policy strategy by Abe. Its why the Chinese always asks Abe and his govt to show sincereity by their actions. Abe’s war mongering Diaoyu stealing strategy is nice for the US which wants to destabilise the region – but bad for Japan and bad for China – who need a stable platform to develop their economies and the ASEAN region. Abe will probably tow the US line on the Diaoyu until Japan’s economy has a big set back.

    • midnightbrewer

      The only thing they agreed on about Diaoyu was to deal with it later. This means it went from being Japanese territory to a no-man’s land at China’s request, then Japan decided to resolve it by claiming it for Japan again. So I guess later is now. China was never going to resolve anything so long as they thought oil was under the islands.

      In the meantime, they’re using the Senkakus as a way to fuel nationalistic hatred of Japan, which they hope will keep their own population from noticing the huge wealth disparity, horrible work conditions and pollution.

    • Iain Macpherson

      You’re aptly named, as you wish what you said were true! Fact is, China tries to bully all neighbouring countries by laying claim to any adjacent — or not so adjacent — territory. But they can’t just bully Japan. That’s what really aggrieves China. Not that Japan’s leading conservatives aren’t being jerks about the war, but it doesn’t really matter that much. And they’re still 100 times better than the corrupt, murderous despots running China.

      • iwishitweretrue

        Problem with your hypothesis is that the Diaoyu have been Chinese since circa 1350 – and Japan has no legal or moral claim on them. Stealing someones goods and then accusing them of bullying is a fools game – which is where the US is at. The US should wise up and force Japan to negotiate the Diaoyu with China – and push for peace. The Chinese despots have brought 800 million people out of poverty in China since the 1970’s – which is the best track record on the planet. Talking of real despots – the US has created more wars and deaths than any other major power over the last 40 years. Its time for peace and mothballing the redundant military!!

      • Murasaki

        Really, I know from my research the US have killed about 20,000,000 to 30,000,000 since the end of WWII, but that is nothing compared to Mao Ze-Dong (China, 1958-61 and 1966-69, Tibet 1949-50) total deaths around 50,000,000 to 78,000,000 and how many deaths since the end of WWII in China? People are always disappearing and never heard of again at the hands of the communist.

      • ff

        30 million people? That statistic is so insane that I honestly think you are joking. The US has had many casualties in war, and we have killed many in war, but I don’t even think the number even gets close to 2 million, let alone 30 million.

      • Iain Macpherson

        @ff: Um, where do you get your supposedly ‘sane’ stats? Not from any internationally recognized scholarship, the *lowest* estimates from which place the number of dead in China’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ at 20 million. Example source: http://www.ncas.rutgers.edu/mao-and-great-leap-forward

      • ff

        ?? I never said the great leap forward killed over 30 million people. I was responding to a commenter who said the USA has killed over 30 million people in war. Try reading my comment before you try to come correcting me on it.

      • Iain Macpherson

        Oh, whoops! Sorry.

      • Iain Macpherson

        Anyone who has closely studied the history of the Senkakus/Diaoyu recognizes that the ‘true’ ownership of these stupid rocks is highly nebulous. So right off the bat, your sweeping statement completely undermines your credibility.

        Have you ever seen Chinese ‘maps’ from circa 1350? They laid claim to anything they felt like, including realms that didn’t even exist.

        And basically, China had never done jack with this island when Japan laid claim to it by letting some seaweed fisherman call it home. If China hadn’t just been militarily defeated by Japan, would it have loudly lodged some international outcry? Maybe, but maybe not. They didn’t yet know there were any valuable resources there.

        But *even if* Japan is said to have militarily seized the Senkakus from China in the 19th century, then if these isles have to be returned then so must every piece of land on the planet seized in the same way in the same century. Good luck with that! Most lines on the world’s map were drawn by now-ancient force in blood.

      • Iain Macpherson

        And you’ll note I didn’t even respond to your claim that the US leadership is more despotic than China’s. Some utterances are so egregiously wrong and morally irresponsible that they aren’t even worthy of response.

    • Jaques Ploteau

      Never mind that they nationalized the islands in order to maintain the status quo. They’ve probably been as respectful of the Chinese as they could have possibly been, short of giving the islands away. Unfortunately the Chinese are not being very diplomatic. I wouldn’t be surprised if Beijing has viewed the policy of status quo as a pain in the rear more than anything else in recent years, and any semblance that Japan is violating it is a golden opportunity to alter the stakes in their favor. I think they’re secretly very happy that things turned out the way they did.

  • Stack Jones

    Is this article about the anti-Japanese protest in China over the Senkakus, or the “frustration among the socially vulnerable over widening gaps between the rich and poor.”

    Apparently, what the article wants to stress, especially in the poorly written title and leading paragraph is that if all Chinese were rich they wouldn’t be protesting Japan’s false history, failure to recognize past war crimes, and generally racist attitude toward all Chinese.

    Enquiring minds!

    • Iain Macpherson

      Japan’s false history? Unlike China’s, right? Good grief, man! Fact is, Japan’s ruling conservatives being jerks about the war pales in comparison to the perfidy of those running China. And it looks like the Chinese people might finally be awakening to that.

  • Far East

    Why do I get the feeling of reading China State controlled CCTV or Xinhua when reading this article?