Waving banners and chanting anti-Japanese slogans, protesters staged rallies in China Saturday to voice anger over the arrest of a Chinese trawler captain which has sparked a major diplomatic row.
“Down with little Japan”, “free our captain” and “remember September 18”, demonstrators shouted in Beijing as sirens rang out to commemorate Saturday’s highly sensitive anniversary of Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931.
Beijing is furious about the seizure of a Chinese fishing boat near a disputed island chain in the East China Sea and the subsquent arrest of the captain.
Tokyo says he intentionally rammed two Japanese coastguard vessels during a high-seas chase on September 7.
The incident has sparked the worst tensions between the Asian neighbours in years, with Beijing summoning Tokyo’s ambassador five times in a week and scrapping scheduled talks over joint energy exploration in the East China Sea.
The uninhabited islands — called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, and also claimed by Taiwan — lie in an area with rich fishing grounds that is also believed to contain oil and gas deposits.
Tokyo had warned its citizens in China to remain vigilant to ensure their safety in the event of any backlash over the dispute.
More than 100 demonstrators staged a rally near Japan’s embassy in Beijing and a group also stopped outside the Chinese foreign ministry, where they chanted “down with the traitors to the motherland” and urged China to “retake the Diaoyu islands.
In Shanghai, around 20 demonstrators gathered near the Japanese consulate and several were arrested.
Other protesters tried unsuccessfully to block the police car taking them away.
Sirens wailed in several cities to mark the anniversary of Japan’s occupation of a swathe of northern China which began with an assault on the city of Shenyang 79 years ago.
The atrocities committed by Japanese forces have cast a long shadow over relations between the two economic powerhouses, with frequent calls on Tokyo to apologise.
This year, September 18 coincides with National Defence Education Day, with military drills held across China.
“An outstanding nation must be a nation that respects history,” said Wang Jinsi, a member with the Chinese Society for Anti-Japanese War History, according to Xinhua.
“To remember history is not to remember hatred but to prevent the tragedy from recurring.”
An anti-Japan demonstration is also planned in Hong Kong on Saturday.