A tense situation involving a chain of islands disputed by China and Japan seems to have boiled over with large scale anti-Japanese protests hitting many Chinese cities at the weekend.
China and Japan have been arguing over the islands in the East China Sea — known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese — for a long time. The conflict is fueled by wartime history and reports of underground gas reserves. Recently Japan's Mayor has provocatively offered to buy the islands, as has Foxconn's Taiwanese CEO Terry Tai-Ming Gou.
Two key events in the last few days seem to have raised the stakes.
First, 14 activists from Hong Kong were arrested on or nearby the disputed islands by Japanese authorities last week. They were swiftly deported. Following that incident, this weekend saw activists from Japan land on the islands and raise a Japanese flag. 10 people were arrested by Japanese authorities, apparently including local politicians.
While both China and Japan appear to be keen to downplay the incidents, anti-Japanese protests soon occurred in a dozen Chinese cities on Sunday, with some spilling over into violence.
The New York Times reports that while Chinese media suggests only a few hundred protesters emerged at each protest, images posted to Weibo and other microblogging sites suggest a few thousand at least during some protests.
Japan and China have had historically tense relations since at least World War II — recent polls suggest the problem may be getting worse with 84% of Japanese have a negative impression of China, a significant rise over previous years.
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