A tiny group of islands nestled just below Japan and hugging the side of China have caused waves of protests and a full blown cultural battle between the two rival countries this past week. These islands are situated in a major shipping route and are also surrounded by gas deposits. Known in Japan as the Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu, the dispute over the islands has escalated tensions, producing full-blown anti-Japanese protests in China on Sunday.
The protests in cities across China were sparked when Japanese nationalists landed on the islands early in the day to reemphasize their plans to keep the islands under Japanese control. The newest protest, consisting of 10 Japanese men, was not sanctioned by government officials and the activists have been taken in for questioning by the Japanese coast guard after they swam back to their vessels.
Leaders of the protest told Japanese officials, “We need to solidly reaffirm our own territory.” Reportedly, these activists were members of a conservative nationalist group in Japan. Their demonstration was in direct response to a Chinese landing on the islands just days before.
14 Hong Kong residents had stormed the islands by boat on Friday in order to make a stand for the islands, demanding that Japan release them. Chinese activists on the mainland supported the 14 demonstrators by burning flags and shouting slogans. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has argued that Japan has threatened China’s territorial sovereignty. Japanese officials deported the demonstrators straightaway in an effort to smooth tensions between the two countries, the Washington Post notes.
That approach doesn’t seemed to have cooled protests by both Chinese and Japanese citizens. Sunday’s protests in cities such as Hong Kong, Guangshou and Shanghai, were raw and more than likely sanctioned by the Chinese government. One protester in Hong Kong told Reuters, “They should return the islands to us and apologize.” That sentiment was reflected in the thousands of others marching through China’s busiest streets.
The protests took a slightly violent turn when some demonstrators proceeded to attack Japanese businesses and cars, according to some reports. The New York Times notes that some photos suggested that tens of thousands of protesters thronged together in the streets. Banners carried weighty messages, such as “Defend the Diaoyu Islands to the death,” and “Even if China is covered with graves, we must kill all Japanese.”
The islands have come to mean much more than the sum of its resources or locale. Like the Falkland Islands that have been under constant dispute between Argentina and Britain for decades, the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands represent the strained history between Japan and China and have also stoked a sense of nationalistic pride in both populations. Japan claims that it has had control of the islands since the 1890s and that the islands were uninhabited at the time. China maintains that the islands have always been a part of the mainland since ancient times.
Unfortunately, this newest incident only reflects a larger, lurking tension between the two nations. Two years ago, the Japanese Coast Guard detained a Chinese fishing vessel that had come into contact with a coast guard ship. China refused to export raw metals to Japan for two months after that incident.
Some of the national tensions reach back to World War II when Japan occupied parts of China. Critics of the recent uprising for control of the islands have suggested that Beijing’s central government is using the issue to divert criticism away from its harsh rule.
Photo Credit: David Vasquez