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Troubled times

Shitao LiSeptember 20, 2012

The spat between Beijing and Tokyo over islands in the East China Sea has triggered a wave of protest in China. Despite the tension, Chinese in Japan say life there is still normal.

A crowded Tokyo street; Photo: EPA/KIMIMASA MAYAMA
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Fang Ma is in her early 30s. She lives in Saitama, a county close to Tokyo. Ma has been living in Japan for nine years, together with her husband, who is also Chinese, working there for a Japanese company. Ma is very concerned about Japanese media reports on the recent protests in China over the Japanese government's purchase of some islands in the East China Sea, which the Japanese refer to as the Senkau and the Chinese as the Diaoyu Islands.

Though she said her life in Japan had not yet been affected, she and her husband were telling themselves, "We should still be careful, don't go to crowded places. Because sometimes we can not help speaking in Chinese language, and that could cause trouble."

Ma told DW she had not heard anything about attacks or threats on Chinese nationals in Japan, but she feared this could change.

Life is OK

Another woman who lives in Nagoya, Lin Chen, told DW, "Life is OK so far" for Chinese in Japan. She said that some of her Japanese friends said they would be wary of travelling to China at the moment. "I explained to them, the situation might not be so bad, but they still don't want to go."

Chen pointed out that for years, Chinese state media had made clear to the Chinese public that radical right-wing and anti-China forces in Japan were on the rise. But from her personal experience in Japan, Chen said: "Only on weekends, Saturdays for example, there are some kind of right-wing propaganda vehicles on the streets. They are not young people, normally one or two middle-aged men. One drives the car, and the other one holds the speaker and gives speeches. The topics are not necessarily always about China. When they speak, most people just pass by."

East China Sea islands called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese; Photo: AP Photo/Kyodo News
China has territorial disputes with a number of other countriesImage: AP

Rational solution, please

Ms. Li, who requested not to be fully named, is 24 years old. She has been living Japan for five years. She told DW that she heard some Japanese took to the streets in Tokyo to protest against the Chinese government, but that Shizuoka, northeastern Japan, was very "quiet" compared with metropoleis such as Tokyo or Nagoya. It was rather the behaviour of some protesters in China which really irritated her.

"A Chinese friend of mine was asked by her Japanese friend, 'it is us Japanese who bought the Senkaku Islands, but why are you Chinese protesting against us by hitting your own people and burning their cars?'"

"Couldn't they please stop vandalizing, and find out a rational way to solve the problem?"

All three Chinese interviewees insisted "the Diaoyu Islands are of course ours," including Ms. Li. However, she believed this kind of sovereignty dispute should be better solved between governments rather than ordinary people.

"The Chinese government is too weak to face the problem. They are always friendly. But I think the government should be a little harder when it comes to territorial issues."

Boycotting Japanese goods

In China, many protests cried for people to boycott Japanese goods. Ms. Li called the idea barely realistic, saying, "Look around in China, there are so many high-end products, especially digital gadgets. Tell me, which of those is not Japanese?"

"Completely boycotting Japanese goods will certainly have negative impact on the Chinese economy," said Chen. "There are so many Japanese companies in China. They must pay quite a lot of taxes."

A customer looks at Sony Corp's portable music players displayed at an electronic store in Tokyo Photo: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao
Many Japanese products are made in ChinaImage: Reuters

Unlike her other two countrywomen, Ma and her husband agreed boycotting Japanese goods would be a good idea. But she added that there was a dilemma to that:

"Many so-called Japanese goods are actually made in China."

In spite of this, she maintains the boycott will have an effect. "I live in Japan now, so it is just impossible for me to boycott all products made in Japan, but I will try to buy 'Made in China' stuff to support Chinese products as much as possible."