HONG KONG—Hundreds of people have staged the latest in a wave of anti-Japanese protests in the Chinese metropolis of Chongqing, as the government warned that demonstrators should stay within the law.
Local residents and Japanese officials said that as many as 2,000 demonstrators, carrying Chinese flags and slogans reading "boycott Japanese goods," and "down with the Japanese devils," arrived outside the Japanese consulate on Oct. 26 afternoon.
The Japanese consul in Chongqing, Seno Kiyomi, said he had called on the municipal government to safeguard Japanese nationals and their businesses in the city.
But he said the protesters had limited their actions to burning the Japanese flag, and had refrained from damaging Japanese property or goods during the march.
"It was just the burning of the Japanese flag," Seno said. "We are not overly concerned. Today's protest was pretty orderly."
"There was no smashing of shops or stores by the roadside, or any Japanese-made cars."
"It was pretty calm and reasonable compared with some other places [in China]," he said.
A Chongqing resident surnamed Mu agreed with Seno's estimate.
"There were probably between one and two thousand people here this afternoon," Mu said.
"The marchers were university students. They marched from [downtown] Chaotianmen Square to stage a protest outside the Japanese consulate."
"Today, pretty much all the slogans were anti-Japanese," Mu said.
Authorities 'off guard'
Chongqing resident Kong Lingping said text messages had been circulating in the city ahead of the protest march, calling on recipients to join in.
"The Communist Party is using people's hatred of the Japanese," said Kong. "But they also want to take the pressure out of this crisis."
The march is the latest in a series of anti-Japan protests in cities across China, sparked by a simmering territorial row over a disputed island chain in the East China Sea.
Claimed by both sides, the islands are known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.
Xiamen-based Diaoyu islands defense activist Li Yiqiang said the marchers had chosen to demonstrate on a weekday to catch the authorities off their guard.
"Security is much tighter on Saturdays and Sundays," Li said. "The [security guards] then take some time off starting Monday. They need a break."
Li said the anti-Japanese protests are seldom arranged with police in advance, because approvals are never granted.
"It's quite simple," he said. "If I apply, will you grant permission, or is it easier for me just to go ahead and do it without permission?"
He said the marches were unlikely to have been rigged by Beijing.
"There isn't a single slogan that is the same from march to march, in all those different places," Li said.
"They are scrambling to stay in control of these protests. They haven't got time to be trying to instigate them as well," he added.
Detention sparked protests
Emotions began to run high in September after Japanese authorities arrested a Chinese trawler captain in the area, which includes rich fishing grounds and possible oil and natural gas reserves.
While the trawler skipper has since returned home, the standoff sparked a nationwide outpouring of nationalist sentiment among a population that is still deeply resentful of Japan for its invasion of China in World War II.
Chinese officials have stopped short of forbidding the protests, which have turned violent in a number of cities, with smashing and burning of Japanese-related goods.
On Tuesday, foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the protests were "spontaneous acts by some Chinese people to express indignation for Japan's recent erroneous deeds and acts."
But Ma warned that patriotic fervor should only be expressed in accordance with the law.
Japanese officials said the consulate was operating as normal, in spite of the protest.
Chongqing authorities had strengthened security around the Japanese consulate on Tuesday, Seno said.
The row has also sparked several anti-China protests in Japan asserting Tokyo's claims to the disputed uninhabited islands.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.