3:11am

Tue September 18, 2012
NPR Story

U.S. Calls For Calm Over Disputed Asian Islands

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 4:18 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Chinese protests against Japan have spread to more than 100 cities and now to the seas. The protestors are objecting to what they say is Japan's unlawful claim to a group of islands in the East China Sea. Today, the U.S. defense secretary visited Beijing, where he urged calm and restraint. But the Chinese defense minister says his country reserves the right to use force against Japan if the countries cannot negotiate a solution to the dispute over the East China Sea islands. NPR's Louisa Lim reports from the Chinese capital.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN)

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: This is the sound of humiliation. This morning at 9:18, air raid signals were broadcast in some Chinese cities. They mark the anniversary of the September 18th incident which began Japan's invasion of China in 1931. Today, it's a reminder of bitter historical enmity, now sharpened by another territorial dispute.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION REPORT)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: And it could get worse. According to television reports, hundreds of Chinese fishing boats are heading for the disputed islands, known as Diaoyu by China and Senkaku in Japan. They're being monitored by the Japanese coastguard, and Chinese government fishery patrol boats. It's the possibility of miscalculation and confrontation, intended or not, that concerns U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking in Beijing.

SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: It's in no country's interests for this situation to escalate into conflict that would undermine peace and stability in this very important region.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIM: He was given the full ceremonial greeting by his Chinese counterpart this morning. For his part, the Chinese defense minister, Liang Guanglie, said he hoped the dispute with Japan would be solved peacefully, but Beijing reserves the right to take what he called further action.

LIANG GUANGLIE: (Through translator) What I want to emphasize is that the current escalation of tensions over this dispute was totally caused by the Japanese side. If we talk about who are concerned about this issue, actually Chinese people has every reason to feel more concerned, because it is regards as China's territory, after all.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

LIM: And that concern is being voiced loud and clear in cities around China. In a country where protest is tightly regulated, this state-sanctioned cry of rage is all the more notable. And that anger risks tipping over into something more frightening. Over the weekend, I talked to one young protestor who asked for his name not to be used. I asked what he studied.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Auto manufacturing, he replies. I want to learn to make tanks to exterminate the Japanese.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD YELLING)

LIM: And mob violence has occurred in some places, with vandals targeting Japanese businesses. Toyota and Honda are suspending production in China temporarily, Japanese shops here remain closed. In Japan, such violence has led to calls for a stronger government response, according to Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo.

KOICHI NAKANO: The Chinese police is not doing all that much to protect property and businesses owned by Japanese or, you know, safeguarding the wellbeing of the Japanese residents in China. So certain right-wingers, of course, say it's for Japan to show its muscle and trying to escalate the tension.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

LIM: This crisis is not helped by domestic political cycles. China's facing a once-in-a-decade transition of power, while Japan's two main parties are picking new leaders. Backing down will not gain any political points in either country. In this heady atmosphere, U.S. calls for calm are falling on deaf ears, for now.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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