A year ago, Honda Motor salesman Liu Hao had one of China’s most hopeless jobs: persuading local consumers to purchase Japanese cars. After a territorial dispute over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea flared up in late summer of 2012, Chinese protesters took to the streets to denounce their Asian neighbor, overturning Japanese autos and attacking Japanese factories and restaurants. The unrest had a chilling effect on Japanese auto sales in China. Amid angry talk of boycotts, Honda sales fell more than 50 percent in October of last year and continued to drop well into 2013.
Today the two nations are still arguing about the islands, controlled by Japan and claimed by China, but tensions have eased, and customers are in the mood to buy Japanese products again. On a recent November afternoon, about 20 people crowded into a Honda showroom in central Beijing, checking out the new Jade sedan, launched in September for the Chinese market. Local buyers “trust the good reputation and engine of Honda,” says salesman Liu, 31. Besides, he says, fighting between China and Japan “would destroy the world, so there won’t actually be a war.”