Panasonic, Toyota Report Damages in China as Protests Widen

China-Japan Island Dispute Worsens in ‘Blow’ for Global Economy
Demonstrators protest outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing on September 16, 2012. Photographer: Goh Chai Hin/AFP/Getty Images

A Panasonic Corp. factory and a Toyota Motor Corp. dealership in China were damaged by fire as anti-Japanese demonstrations spread across the country, prompting Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to urge the Chinese government to ensure the safety of its citizens.

Smoke and flames were reported as coming from Panasonic’s electronic-parts plant in eastern Shandong province’s Qingdao city, said Atsushi Hinoki, a Tokyo-based Panasonic spokesman. Keisuke Kirimoto, a Toyota spokesman, said an auto dealership in the same port city was damaged, and the company was checking for losses in other cities.

Tensions between Asia’s two largest economies escalated after Noda’s government said last week his country would purchase disputed islands in the East China Sea from their private Japanese owner, prompting China to dispatch government vessels near the islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. The row takes place as both countries grapple with a global economic slowdown and China’s Communist Party prepares for a generational leadership change.

More than 10,000 people marched in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Mass protests were also held in the cities of Harbin, Nanjing, Hohhot, Changchun and Wuhan, with demonstrations largely peaceful and few instances of looting and vandalism, it said.

The protesters said they were responding to calls posted on online forums or Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s messaging service QQ, Xinhua said. In Shenzhen, police used tear gas and water cannons to drive back thousands of anti-Japan protesters occupying a major street, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.

‘Down with Japan Devils’

“I intend to strongly demand that the Chinese government ensure security” of Japanese citizens, Noda said today on public broadcaster NHK’s “Sunday Debate” program. “I strongly object” to the burning of Japanese flags and the protests.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba returned to Tokyo after cutting short a visit to Australia, while the nation’s new ambassador to China died today after an illness.

In Shanghai, hundreds of riot police separated groups of protesters as they gathered outside the Japanese consulate chanting, “down with Japan devils, boycott Japanese goods, give back Diaoyu.” There were no reports of injuries in the largely peaceful protests.

“Japan is becoming more and more arrogant and the feelings of Chinese are increasingly being oppressed,” said Xiao Feng, 26, an office worker who came to Shanghai to join a few hundred other protesters from Jiangxi province. “We need to step up and make our feelings known that they can’t just have their way.”

Fishing to Resume

Protests occurred in Qingdao, Xi’an, Guangzhou and Hong Kong yesterday as more than 1,000 demonstrators gathered outside the Embassy of Japan in Beijing. Japan’s Kyodo News said more than 40,000 people joined the demonstrations in 20 Chinese cities. Overseas Chinese in Houston and Chicago also protested the Japanese government’s purchase of the islands, Xinhua reported.

Chinese fishermen from Fujian and Zhejiang provinces may resume their activities near disputed islands with Japan today after a three-month seasonal moratorium, China National Radio reported. More than 1,000 fishing boats go there every year, according to CNR.

Activists from Hong Kong plan to sail to the islands on Sept. 18, China National Radio reported on its website yesterday. Japan last month arrested and deported a group that departed from Hong Kong and landed on the islets to assert China’s claim.

Japan’s incoming envoy Shinichi Nishimiya died this morning after an illness, the Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement. Nishimiya was sent to the hospital for an unspecified illness two days after his appointment, the ministry said on Sept. 13.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto returned to Tokyo yesterday after cutting short a visit to Australia, public broadcaster NHK reported.

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