EDITORIAL: Protests in China

The Asahi Shimbun

Why didn’t the Chinese authorities do something?
Increasingly anti-Japan demonstrations in China have sent bilateral ties to their lowest ebb since diplomatic relations were normalized in 1972.
On Saturday, about 10,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Beijing. The protesters hurled stones and plastic water bottles at the Japanese Embassy and damaged Japanese restaurants. Demonstrations also spilled over to Guangzhou and Shenzhen in Guangdong province in the south and Chengdu in Sichuan province. In Shanghai, two Japanese students were beaten and injured by protesters.
Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura summoned Chinese Ambassador Wang Yi to formally protest the incidents and request that Beijing do its best to protect Japanese businesses and citizens in China.
About a week ago, demonstrations in Chengdu resulted in smashed windowpanes of a supermarket operated by a Japanese-affiliated company. That prompted Tokyo to press Beijing to take steps to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents and to secure the safety of its citizens. Groups that are hostile to Japan had actively spent the previous few days trying to get people to join Saturday’s demonstration in Beijing. Yet, the Chinese government did not take sufficient precautionary measures to deal with the demonstration. We cannot understand why it failed to do so. In Beijing, a heavy police presence was deployed in front of the Japanese Embassy. But the police did nothing when the crowd repeatedly threw stones. In fact, they looked the other way. The demonstrators went back to the university district in buses prepared after the dust had settled.
We wonder if the Chinese authorities didn’t care of the protests got out of hand? The matter is beyond our comprehension.
Maybe the authorities feared the mob would turn on them if the marchers were forcibly put under control. There is widespread discontent in today’s China: corruption and other forms of injustices, such as the wide disparity in people’s income, top the list of grievances. Perhaps, the authorities feared this general state of disgruntlement would be directed at the Communist Party or the government as and when the opportunity permits.
Or maybe they wanted to impress upon Japan and the world the extent of anti-Japanese sentiment in China. Whatever the reason, we believe the Chinese authorities need to demonstrate that it will not tolerate such violent demonstrations. If such acts are condoned in the capital, they easily can spread to provincial districts.
Anti-China and Sinophobic sentiment in general will likely grow in Japan if such violent anti-Japanese demonstrations continue. Similar turmoil erupted at the Asian Cup soccer games in China last year. As it happens, only a handful of demonstrators actually took part in throwing stones. Most of the participants, even if they do harbor anti-Japanese feelings, would not have thought of resorting to violence.
As for how Japanese perceive history, a major issue for the Chinese people, many Japanese think seriously about it and are trying to address opinions voiced by neighboring countries. Further acts of violence will serve only to dampen sensible opinion in both countries. In fact, it could become overwhelmed by antagonistic emotions.
We wish to address the governments of the two countries: even though nationalism of one country often clashes with that of another, it is the role of governments to devise ways to prevent emotions from getting out of control.
In recent days, all the two governments have done is to simply state their positions regarding the issues including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine or China’s development of oil resources in the East China Sea. Some even go so far as to say, “Let the issue take its own course.”
They may think a crisis in bilateral relations will somehow be averted at the last moment. But popular sentiment of the two countries, once hurt, cannot be repaired.
–The Asahi Shimbun, April 11(IHT/Asahi: April 12,2005)

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