Sunday, September 16, 2012

Xi reappears amidst rising anti-Japan protests

Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping  has reappeared in public after a two week disappearing act which triggered wild speculation as to his whereabouts. The timing of his reappearance comes as China is seeing a growing number of anti-Japanese protests which may be worrying China, Japan and the US.

Xi's reappearance

Xi, who is expected to become China's next leader, had cancelled a number of high profile meeting with international leaders prompting some to speculate had fallen ill or been the subject of an assassination plot. But on Saturday the vice-president attended an event to mark national science day, smiling and apparently in good health.

No official explanation has been given for his absence, which fuelled widespread speculation on China's microblogs and in news reports around the world. Xinhua, China's official news agency, carried a brief report of Xi's visit to the China Agricultural University in Beijing with a photograph showing the vice-president smiling and walking with other officials.

China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping is set to attend a meeting with Southeast Asian nations later this week,  signalling his return to diplomatic duties. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, who has continually denied having any information on Xi's whereabouts in  recent weeks, told media on Sunday that the Chinese Vice-President will attend the opening ceremony and "some other important activities" for the 9th China-Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Expo being held at Nanning, capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region [BBC / IBT / FT].

Rising protests

Xi's return to the public arena comes as China faces a difficult domestic situation with growing anti-Japanese protests triggered by an ongoing dispute centred around a group of islands in the South China Sea.

Thousands of demonstrators attacked the Japanese embassy in Beijing on Saturday in a protest that was clearly condoned by the authorities and served as a distraction from the uncertainty over the succession.

Some Chinese protesters shouted slogans such as "Declare war on Japan" while others threw rocks and eggs at the compound [BBC]. Demonstrators took to the streets again Sunday in cities across China, with the government offering mixed signals on whether it would continue to tolerate the sometimes violent outbursts.

The protests on Sunday were orderly in Beijing, now surrounded by a huge police presence with several hundred people gathered in front of the Japanese Embassy demanding Chinese control over a small island group known as Senkaku in Japan and as Diaoyu in China.

But protests in other parts of the country have been more volatile. Demonstrations have been reported in up to 50 cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou and Qingdao, some of which have been extremely violent forcing police to intervene with tear gas.

Calls for calm

In Qingdao, a factory for the Panasonic Corporation was set on fire and a Toyota dealership was looted. Across China there have been growing calls for boycotts of Japanese products. Meanwhile Japan's prime minister Yoshihiko Noda has called on China to protect Japanese people and property [VoA].

A signed editorial on the website of People's Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece, said the protests should be viewed sympathetically. While not defending the violence, the editorial said the protests were a symbol of the patriotism of the Chinese people.

"No one would doubt the pulses of patriotic fervour when the motherland is bullied," the editorial read. "No one would fail to understand the compatriots' hatred and fights when the country is provoked; because a people that has no guts and courage is doomed to be bullied and a country that always hides low and bide its time will always come under attack." The article had been deleted by late Sunday.

Evidence arose Sunday which suggested that some government officials were directly involved in the protests. In the western city of Xi'an, Chinese Internet activists identified one of the officials as the city's police chief [Banned Book]. Although localized riots and protests are common in China, organized, planned protests that are tolerated by the authorities are rare.

Thousands of apparently well-organised demonstrators, some of them carrying portraits of former Communist party leader Mao Zedong, could be seen alongside the police chief [NYTAl Jazeera / Asahi / The Australian / FT]

US concerns

On Friday, six Chinese marine surveillance ships patrolled near the islands, known in China as the Diaoyu and to Japan as the Senkaku. In addition to sending the surveillance craft, the Chinese government issued a stream of strong statements in state media saying it would protect the nation's interests in the matter [Herald].

Meanwhile US Defence Secretary Leon E. Panetta who is scheduled to visit Beijing on Monday said he was increasing concerned about the rising nationalism sweeping across China. Shortly before landing in Tokyo on Sunday, Panetta told correspondents aboard his jet that he worried that territorial disputes in the Pacific could move from tension to conflict. "I am concerned that when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands, that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence, and could result in conflict," " he said [BBC]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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