China's ruling Communist Party moved on Tuesday to tone down nationalist rhetoric and ease bilateral tensions with Japan over a disputed group of islands, following anti-Japanese protests around the country at the weekend.
Beijing allowed thousands of its people to take to the streets Sunday in the biggest anti-Japanese protests in seven years after Japanese activists landed on an island controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.
But key members of a nationwide network of Protect the Diaoyu activists said that many of them weren't present at the demonstrations and are now being held under house arrest as official media seek to calm anti-Japanese fervor.
"All the Diaoyu campaigners had their liberty restricted by police and state security police on [Saturday] and [Sunday]," Jiangxi based Diaoyu activist Zhang Zhe said on Tuesday. "They have all been called in [for questioning]."
He said the nationwide protests that brought thousands of Chinese out onto the streets over the weekend were actively encouraged by the authorities, who now wish to put a lid back on popular anger.
"I saw a lot of government officials during the protests, dressed in Diaoyu T-shirts and leading the slogans," Zhang said. "They were controlling the situation."
"They had all of us genuine Diaoyu activists held [under house arrest], and then they took over."
The protests flared in more than a dozen Chinese cities after a group of Japanese right-wing lawmakers and other nationalists landed on the largest island in a chain in the East China Sea and unfurled Japanese flags.
Their actions emulated those of 14 pro-China activists who had made the same gesture during their trip last week to the islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. They were arrested for illegal entry and sent home by the Japanese authorities.
Japan's Kyodo news agency said some 5,000 people protested in Shenzhen in southern Guangdong province, damaging Japanese restaurants and vehicles in Shenzhen and Hangzhou in the eastern province of Zhejiang.
In the first sign that Beijing is now seeking to smooth over ties with its economically powerful neighbor, the official news agency Xinhua published an editorial on Tuesday titled "Irrational, violent anti-Japanese protests should be avoided."
"Patriotism is a noble act, but protestors should avoid any irrational or violent behavior," the article said.
"Several ugly incidents did occur, demonstrating a brand of nationalism that is wholly uncalled for."
It said "rabid" protesters vandalized a Japanese restaurant and overturned a Japanese-brand police car in Shenzhen, apparently corroborating the Kyodo report.
"The government ultimately rejects the kind of blind patriotism that can result in violence, especially against Chinese compatriots," Xinhua said.
A similar message appeared in an editorial in the China Youth Daily newspaper, the official newspaper of China's Communist Youth League, which has close ties to President Hu Jintao.
Sunday's protests were the biggest anti-Japanese demonstrations since 2005, when Japan said it was planning to award gas drilling rights in disputed waters, and analysts said Beijing was using populist measures to put pressure on Japan.
The patriotic party may now be over, however, as China's powerful propaganda department ordered news media to stick to news reports from Xinhua when reporting the anti-Japanese protests, Hong Kong media reported.
News outlets that had already sent journalists to cover the protests should immediately take down any reports or photographs from the scene, according to the Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper.
Hangzhou-based independent journalist Zan Aizong said the demonstrations had served Beijing's purpose, and that the government is now keen to ensure they don't escalate beyond its control.
"They allowed a few protests, but they kept a tight leash on the media," Zan said. "If this had been freely reported, there is a likelihood that we would have seen many times that number of people on the streets."
"Now they have it within manageable proportions," he said.
China and Japan, the top two Asian economic powers, have been quarreling for decades over the uninhabited chain, also known as the Tiaoyutai in Taiwan, which also lays claim to it.
The new tensions draw parallels with Beijing's disputes with Southeast Asian nations over territorial claims in the South China Sea.
China's rapid defense buildup on the back of its fast growing economy has led to concerns it could unleash its military might to impose its territorial claims on unwilling, smaller neighbors.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.