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Anti-Japan mood fosters Chinese unity

September 18, 1996
Web posted at: 11:10 a.m. EDT (1510 GMT)

BEIJING (CNN) -- Chinese protesters in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao demonstrated again Wednesday against Japanese claims to a chain of potentially oil-rich islets in the East China Sea. The demonstrations came 65 years to the day after the Japanese invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria, beginning a chain of events leading to World War II.

In the weeks since right-wing Japanese activists set up a lighthouse on one of the disputed islands, the Chinese government and its state-run press have unleashed a flurry of anti-Japanese critiques. And whether in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan or on the mainland, Chinese people -- who have not forgotten the past -- eagerly echo those critiques.


"Chinese people are very sensitive about territorial issues, especially when it's an issue of Japan encroaching on Chinese territory," said one Chinese man.

Even the recently released Chinese film "The July 7th Incident" appears to be timed to incite anti-Japanese sentiments. The film focuses on the Japanese invasion of China in 1937.

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Japan has claimed the uninhabited islands, which it calls the Senkakus, since 1895, when it defeated China and seized Taiwan and other territories. But China has not relinquished its centuries-held claims on what it calls the Daioyus.

China claims the islands are an inseparable part of its sovereign territory, and has hinted it may use force if Japan does not take action against the lighthouse-builders.

"If the Japanese government continues to condone the activities of these rightist groups, then the situation will become even more serious and the problem will get even more complicated," said Shen Guofang of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Ironically, the dispute over the islands may have simplified China's often complex relationships with Chinese communities outside its borders. In Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, protesters have taken to the streets and circulated petitions demanding that Japan back down.

The planning of similar demonstrations on the mainland is forbidden -- and has even landed Chinese activist Tong Zeng in detention -- but the protests elsewhere have proven beneficial to Beijing.


In fact, some analysts say the real significance of the demonstrations lies not so much in the anti-Japanese message as in their potential to bring Taiwan and China closer together and ease the transitions of Hong Kong and Macao back into China's fold. Hong Kong is to be transferred from Britain next year, and Portugal is to relinquish its rule of Macao in 1999.

But while the dispute may bolster unity for greater China, it is forcing China and Japan farther apart. With a long and bitter history already between the two countries, how they resolve this crisis could set the future tone of their relationship.

Correspondent Andrea Koppel and Reuters contributed to this report.


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