Beijing/Hong Kong — Chinese protests grew Sunday against Japan’s nationalization of the Senkaku Islands, with rallies counted in at least 85 cities and spotty reports of continuing violence and property damage.
Aside from Beijing and Shanghai, the rallies had spread to other major cities, including Guangzhou and Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, and Chengdu in Sichuan. The one in Guangzhou drew over 10,000 people.
In some cities, however, the anti-Japan protests over the isles claimed by China and Taiwan turned into antigovernment demonstrations instead, striking out at communist China’s one-party rule, bureaucratic corruption, widening wealth gap, and scarce jobs for university graduates.
In Guangzhou, protesters threw rocks into a building housing a Japanese diplomatic establishment, while a protest in Shenzhen saw violent clashes erupt with riot police.
Japanese Ambassador to China Uichiro Niwa asked the Chinese government to take all possible measures to protect Japanese residents and companies.
Official media reports meanwhile contained only scant information on the damage inflicted on Japanese businesses. A report by China’s official Xinhua news agency reported that authorities in major cities have beefed up security to prevent more property damage amid calls for “rational expressions of patriotism.”
At a rally in Shenzhen, about 10,000 people clashed with riot police as they forced their way toward a Japanese department store, Hong Kong’s TVB reported.
Police fired tear gas at the agitated crowd, which chanted slogans such as “patriotism is not a crime,” but failed to disperse them, footage showed.
The crowd called for the release of other protesters detained for organizing Sunday’s rally in the city, a participant said.
Some climbed on top of an armored police vehicle as a police helicopter hovered nearby.
Such developments sparked concerns that the protests could turn into antigovernment demonstrations, but most of the focus was on the isle row.
In Guangzhou, thousands of people, some holding Chinese flags and pictures of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, faced off with riot police outside the Japanese Consulate, Hong Kong broadcaster Now TV showed.
Protesters marched toward the consulate, holding banners reading, “The Diaoyu Islands are China’s territory that is not to be violated!” and “Down with little Japan. Return the Diaoyu Islands.”
Some managed to break into the consulate compound and threw stones at the building. They also broke the windows of a nearby Japanese restaurant.
Xinhua said Guangzhou have sent more police to guard Japanese businesses and the consulate grounds.
The protests emerged in response to online calls to stage demonstrations in at least 33 cities on Sunday after Japan on Tuesday bought privately owned land on the Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu, to nationalize them.
As Japanese factories, stores and restaurants were vandalized Saturday, observers were closely watching how authorities would respond to the violence.
Police tightened security around the Japanese Embassy in Beijing by deploying about 1,000 armed personnel as multiple groups marched on a street in front of it, asserting Chinese sovereignty over the islands.
It marked the sixth straight day of anti-Japan demonstrations in front of the embassy. Similar protests also took place in Qingdao, Shangdong Province, and Nanjing in Jiangsu.
On Saturday, more than 80,000 took to the streets in at least 57 cities to denounce the nationalization of the islands, marking the largest anti-Japan protests since the two countries normalized diplomatic relations in 1972.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it was trying to calm the situation by asking citizens to “express their demands in a legal and rational way.”
Chinese experts on relations with Japan said that irrational and violent protests will not have a positive impact on the territorial dispute and could prove to be damaging instead.
“These irrational moves can actually escalate the crisis between the two nations, and may be what the Japanese rightwingers are expecting to see,” Liu Jiangyong, vice dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, was quoted as saying in the Sunday issue of the China Daily.