China takes to the streets after falling out with the neighbours

A collision between a fishing boat and the coast guard does not, on the face of it, sound like an internationally significant incident. Nor does the death of a panda. But when the parties involved are China and Japan, the stakes are considerably higher.

Relations between the two countries are never easy. But as police prepare for Chinese demonstrators taking to the streets today to mark the 79th anniversary of the Japanese invasion, tensions are particularly high. Protests are not a regular feature of the anniversary, but recent diplomatic incidents have brought one of the most crucial relationships in the region into as sharp a focus as ever.

The spat was sparked last week when Japanese coast guards chased a Chinese trawler which had entered waters near a group of islands controlled by Japan but claimed by China, called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. They are located some 190 kilometres east of Taiwan.

The Japanese arrested the captain after the Chinese vessel collided with two Japanese patrol boats. The captain could face prosecution, although the trawler and its 14-member crew have since returned to China.

And as if that incident were not enough, a difficulty over an endangered species has emphasised still further how tricky relations remain. That episode began when a Chinese male giant panda called Kou Kou, or Xing Xing in Chinese, died in a Japanese zoo after it was sedated so that it could donate semen in an artificial insemination programme. The giant panda is China's national symbol, and the death of one is considered a big issue.

The 14-year-old Kou Kou died of a heart attack after failing to recover from an anaesthetic at the Oji zoo in Kobe. Zoo officials said they are investigating its death, and a team of Chinese officials has joined them. The zoo faces a penalty of up to £300,000.

Neither of these incidents would count for much in isolation. But even though economic relations between the two neighbours are good, the Chinese still bitterly resent the brutal occupation of China by the Imperial Army, which began with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931.

Many Chinese insist Tokyo has never shown adequate contrition for atrocities carried out during the occupation, including the "Rape of Nanking", which began when Japanese troops invaded China's wartime capital on 13 December 1937. Chinese historians claim that over a six-week period more than 300,000 people were killed, although some Japanese historians insist the number was much lower.

Huang Dahui, of Renmin University's International Relations department, said the current row is all about "face", but has a major historical background. Mr Huang points to the period five years ago when relations hit rock-bottom over then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese war criminals are among the war dead commemorated – a gesture that was likely to inflame tensions.

Today's anniversary, he said, is likewise bound to be difficult. "September 18 is a very important day for both governments to think about their relations and reflect on the lessons of war. What I cannot understand is how on this most sensitive of days, the Japanese government still chose to deal with the issue in this way, which is guaranteed to pull the nationalism trigger in China," Mr Huang said. He believes the power structure is changing because of China's growing economic influence, prompting Japan to behave in "a less proper way".

If protests do break out today – though the organisers insist they have no such intention – it will echo a particularly difficult period in 2004, when violent anti-Japanese riots over the publication of a history textbook in Japan, which the Chinese said minimised atrocities carried out during the occupation of China, further inflamed tensions. Japanese businesses and the country's embassy were attacked, and Japanese made products were destroyed in the incidents, which marked a low-point since relations normalised in 1972.

The latest crisis has not reached such worrying heights. But as long as a panda and a fishing boat can bring people to the streets, it is hard to see the two countries behaving in as neighbourly a way as their mutual economic interests might suggest they should.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Tax Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Progressive practice, punching ...

Recruitment Genius: Ruby On Rails Developer

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This an exciting opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Lift Engineer

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Lift Engineer is required to jo...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible