Chinese rioters storm Japanese embassy in Beijing

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Saturday, April 9, 2005

The event was associated with the largest state-sanctioned protest in years for China.

As many as a thousand rioters attempted to storm the Japanese embassy in Beijing late Saturday, shouting "Boycott Japan!" and "Japanese pig come out!", throwing rocks and smashing guardhouse windows. Protesters proclaimed, "Chinese people shouldn't protect Japanese," at the 500-odd riot-police who had arrived to guard the compound, wire agencies reported.

The Japanese Government had been criticised earlier this week for approving a controversial history textbook that protesters, as well as many in China and Korea, say whitewashes Japan's wartime atrocities against China. Japan's ambassador to Beijing defended the textbooks, adding that they were produced by private companies and not the Japanese government.

The Chinese People's Daily provided a report about the events which led up to the riot. The report cited the protesters' demands to "safeguard [the] Diaoyu Islands"; "smash Japan's daydream" of seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council; and boycott Japanese-made products.

Between six- and twenty-thousand had turned out for a peaceful, legal anti-Japanese rally earlier in the day, prior to the emergence of the full-scale riot.

"Our generation believes that China must stand up for its rights and stop being soft on Japan," Li Jiangchuan, a college student told The New York Times. "Japan should stop lying about history and tell the truth," he said.

"Every Chinese feels anger at the way Japan ignores its own history and tries to occupy China's sovereign territory," Li Hongbo, 19, student at Tsinghua University, told The New York Times. China and Japan have recently disputed ownership of the string of tiny Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which have natural gas reserves.

According to New York Times' reporter Joseph Kahn in Beijing, "Subsequent gatherings at the Japanese ambassador's residence and the Japanese Embassy appeared to have been organized without official approval and were considerably more tense, with the police closing off many roads and busing in reinforcements to maintain order."

Participants in demonstrations also attacked the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi branch and a Japanese restaurant whose waitresses wear kimonos, reported Reuters. Thousands also threw stones at the home of the Japanese ambassador to China, Koreshige Anami, according to the Kyodo News agency.

Japan formally protested the event with the Chinese diplomatic mission in Tokyo. Chinese diplomats expressed regret that the protest had gotten out of hand.

"The fact that people took actions such as throwing rocks at the ambassador's residence as well as the embassy is not something that the Chinese government can accept," Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Qiao Zonghuai was quoted as saying. [1]

"Representing the government, I offer my heartfelt sympathy and express my regret" he said.

"Some people in Beijing organised a demonstration themselves in protest against the wrong attitude and practice Japan had taken recently on the issue of its history of aggression," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang was quoted as saying [2].

"The Chinese government demanded the demonstrators to keep calm and sane, give voice to their attitude in a lawful and orderly way, and not to engage in excessive action," he said.

However, the BBC reported that the authorities had signaled "tacit acceptance, if not approval" by allowing Saturday's protest to happen in the first place. [3]

Reporting of at least the initial larger rally by Chinese government-operated media outlets such as People's Daily quoted above, was 'rare', according to a number of sources. As explained by Japanese Kyodo News, "China's state media seldom reports on protest rallies inside China." [4]

Reports indicate that the initial protest was organised substantially by communication over the internet, including email, bulletin boards, and instant messaging. [5] [6]

The demonstrations have been attributed a number of records for size-in-recent-years, including "largest to be held in the capital since a massive outpouring [of] anti-American sentiment in 1999, after the United States bombed China's embassy in Belgrade during the war against Serbia"; [7]; "the biggest protest against foreigners since [the same event]" [8]; "one of the largest protest events authorized by the Chinese government in years" [9]; and "the largest anti-Japanese demonstration in Beijing since the two countries normalized diplomatic ties in 1972" [10].

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