HONG KONG—Tensions between China and Japan are rising ahead of a sensitive anniversary and amid a simmering row over a confrontation in the East China Sea, with at least one group planning a protest march this weekend.
In the worst confrontation between China and Japan in several years, Tokyo and Beijing are in a diplomatic standoff sparked by last week's collision between a Chinese fishing trawler and two Japanese coast guard vessels near the disputed Diaoyu island chain in the East China Sea.
"The current situation was caused by what Japan has done on the Diaoyu Islands, so Japan should be completely accountable for it," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news briefing Thursday.
"China possesses indisputable sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and China's willingness and determination to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity is unshakable," Jiang said.
Tokyo says the Chinese skipper intentionally rammed the Japanese ships during a chase, and continues to hold him, although the rest of the crew has now been released.
China has summoned Japan's ambassador at least five times over the incident, saying the continued detention of the trawler captain is "a protruding obstacle" to Sino-Japanese ties.
Saturday marks the 79th anniversary of the Sept. 18 Mukden incident in which Japanese forces blew up a section of railway line in northeast China, an event which for most Chinese marked the onset of 14 years of Japanese aggression in China.
Activists in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China where people enjoy the freedom to protest, said they would stage an anti-Japanese rally on Saturday.
But groups based in mainland China said they have no plans to do the same.
"This [rumor] has been spreading like crazy everywhere and lots of people have called me to ask about it," said Tong Zeng, founder of China's Protect the Diaoyu Association.
He said the Chinese government is probably unwilling to allow popular expressions of anti-Japanese feelings similar to those seen in protests in 2005.
"Back in 2005, after the marches were over, there were probably some participants who began to oppose the Chinese government," said Tong, who is a retired historian.
"Therefore I think that there aren't likely to be any demonstrations approved this time around," he said. "Everyone I spoke to said they hadn't applied to stage a protest."
An employee who answered the phone at the Beijing municipal public security department declined to answer questions about applications by would-be protesters.
"Yes [we are in charge of processing applications for demonstrations], but we don't answer inquiries," the employee said.
And a written request for an interview faxed on Thursday to an official at the municipal police press office received no reply.
'Rational, legal means'
An editorial in the English-language Global Times newspaper, part of the Communist Party's People's Daily media group, called for calm.
"Grassroots protests should go ahead in an orderly fashion in China, without attacking Japanese citizens or damaging their property," the paper said on Friday.
"If that is accomplished, it will be a significant step forward from the 2005 anti-Japan protests that turned violent in some Chinese cities."
At the foreign ministry, Jiang didn't comment on whether protests would be permitted at the weekend, but said she expects any reaction in China over the trawler incident to be carried out "by rational and legal means."
"The Chinese government will continue to protect the safety of foreign organizations and people in China, including those from Japan," she said.
"China hopes Japan can have a correct view and proper handling of the history, and take concrete steps to stick to a path of peaceful development," Jiang said.
The Chinese fishing boat released by the Japanese coast guard returned to its home port of Quanzhou in the southeastern province of Fujian on Wednesday.
The Hong Kong protesters said they would march to the Japanese consulate and China Liaison Office on Saturday afternoon.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.