Anti-Japanese Protests Reignite as Panetta Visits Beijing

Posted: 18th September 2012

United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta started a three day visit to China today, making him the second high profile US official in Beijing during recent weeks. Panetta arrived as anti-Japanese protests continued across China with thousands in the streets condemning Japan’s purchase of the Senkaku Islands, which the Chinese claim as their own. Images and reports suggest a growing belligerence and support for military action while some Japanese companies shut down operations after attacks on their facilities.

The protests compound an already challenging diplomatic setting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s absence from the public eye for ten days and the Chinese military leaking images of a second stealth fighter prototype over the weekend. And despite suggestions that Panetta’s early meetings have been cordial, the widespread protests remain concerning given Japan’s position as a close economic and military ally of the United States. You can track the protest activity live using the interactive map below:

Modern dispute over control of the islands dates back to the early 1970s, but the most recent conflict flared up when the Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara announced on April 16, 2012 that his government would seek to buy the Senkakus from their private owners.

The issue really caught fire when Japan’s purchase of the islands was confirmed last Friday inciting public protest around China. The Chinese government has appealed for the United States to back Japan down, and the U.S. certainly has much at stake: it has stated that in case of military conflict between the parties, the U.S. would intervene on behalf of Japan under Article 5 of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between the Japan and the United States.

Still, relations between China and Japan have degraded on the issue such that reports today claiming Chinese fishing boats near the islands cite a senior Japanese coast guard official saying, “We cannot tell what action the Chinese side will take, but we want to prevent a landing by any means.”