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China Ratchets Up The Rhetoric In Island Spat With Japan

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China Ratchets Up The Rhetoric In Island Spat With Japan

International

China Ratchets Up The Rhetoric In Island Spat With Japan

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

China is threatening Japan with trade retaliation, this after a weekend of anti-Japanese protests across China over Japan's purchase of disputed islands in the East China Sea. The economic costs of these protests is beginning to escalate. And NPR's Louisa Lim has been asking exactly who's behind them.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language)

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: Small groups of protestors sing China's national anthem this morning, as they march in front of the Japanese embassy in Beijing. Its walls are still stained after being pelted with eggs. The marchers are protesting against Japan's purchase last week of disputed islands known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. Here I meet a Mr. Luo. He'd like to protest, he says, but today isn't his day to do so.

MR. LUO: (Through translator) I haven't been organized to demonstrate. I'm having the day off. The government controls and organizes the demonstrations. You can't just go if you like. At the very least, there's organization among the universities. There are half a million students in Beijing. If they all came here at once, it would be unimaginable.

LIM: There's an extraordinary level of organization here in front of the Japanese embassy. The sidewalks are lined with people. They're all wearing red armbands saying public security volunteers. And these are, of course, on top of the policemen and paramilitary troops and anti-riot police that we see. But it's really a sign of just how many bodies the Chinese state can mobilize, if they wish to do so.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: That becomes clear when I interview this man who won't give his name. He's draped in a Chinese flag and he says he's proud to defend the sovereignty of the motherland. When he tells me to interview someone else, I point out that everyone else around us are policemen.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: How do you know I'm not a policeman, he asks me. I don't, I reply. Are you a policeman?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Don't ask me that, he says. When I press him, he tells me to stop making such a fuss about whether or not he's a policeman. After this conversation, my guess is that there are police in plainclothes among the protestors.

There's a street of Korean and Japanese restaurants. All of them have hung up huge red banners outside the restaurants saying the Diaoyu islands are China's. In this very volatile atmosphere, any business - particularly a Japanese business - can find itself targeted, and these restaurants are trying to avoid that.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

LIM: In the southern city of Zhuhai, protestors smashed Japanese shop and car windows. Japanese businesses are now taking fright. Three Canon factories have temporarily shut. Chinese tourists are cancelling flights to Japan. But whipping up anti-Japanese sentiment could end up harming China, according to Hu Xingdou, a political analyst at Beijing Institute of Technology.

HU XINGDOU: (Through translator) I think it's a double edged sword. Anti-Japanese sentiment could get out of control. In the past, blind anti-foreign patriotism hindered China's progress. Patriotism is often a shelter for political hooligans.

LIM: One big test comes tomorrow, the anniversary of Japan's invasion of China in 1931. This coincides with a visit to Beijing by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who's expressed concern about the escalation of tensions. But having unleashed the demons of anti-Japanese nationalism, China may find itself backed into a corner by its own citizens demanding a harder line on Japan, whatever the cost.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

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