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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future