China Security Memo: Oct. 21, 2010

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China Security Memo: Oct. 21, 2010


[Teaser:] Protests against the Japanese claim to the Diaoyu Islands remained unchecked for three days in eight Chinese cities, as if Beijing decided to open a temporary outlet for anti-Japanese sentiment. (With STRATFOR interactive map) 

Security, Nationalism and Public Venting

Protestors gathered in at least seven Chinese cities Oct. 16 to denounce Japan and its claim to the Diaoyu Islands (which the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands). Anywhere from a few hundred to as many as 100,000 people demonstrated in Shanghai, Tianjin, Chengdu in Sichuan province, Xi’an in Shaanxi province, Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, Zhengzhou in Henan province and Wuhan in Hubei province to express their opposition to Japan’s claim on the islands.

Coordinated nationwide protests are extremely rare in China, and police forces usually crack down on them quickly and effectively when given the order. Their sudden outbreak after a kind of détente had been reached between China and Japan over the island dispute can only indicate Beijing approved the protests.

Up to 2,000 demonstrators in Chengdu gathered outside Japanese department stores Ito-Yokada and Isetan, smashing windows and causing other damage to the buildings. A woman who was eating in a fast-food restaurant near the marching protestors was stopped and told to change her dress because they thought it looked like a kimono. In other cities, up to 10,000 protestors gathered and marched with signs, many of which had vulgar statements directed at their island neighbor. The largest reported demonstration was in Shanghai, where an estimated 100,000 protestors gathered (such estimates are often exaggerated by counting bystanders).

In Mianyang, Sichuan province, about 120 kilometers (about 75 miles) from Chengdu, demonstrators replicated the larger city’s protests the next day, Oct. 17. Demonstrators damaged Japanese-made cars and threw stones at a Japanese ramen restaurant. Some 100 protestors clashed with police in Wuhan on Oct. 18, as the protests reached their day. There were no reports of major violence or police movements to shut down the protests until Oct. 18 in Wuhan, though there was a notable police presence in all cities monitoring developments. By not quickly putting down the protests, Beijing seemed to have decided to temporarily open an outlet for anti-Japanese sentiment.

The anger was partly triggered by the arrest and imprisonment of a Chinese ship’s captain piloting his vessel near the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in early September. Beijing suspended talks with Tokyo over natural gas drilling in the area that were being held to solve a decades-long dispute. The most virulent of nationalistic Chinese called for a military response, and protests were expected. Anti-Japanese protests have flared in China on numerous occasions, particularly between 2003 and 2006, when multiple large anti-Japanese protests occurred. One in April 2005 which was sparked by new Japanese history textbooks that supposedly glossed over Japan's occupation of China in the 1930s and 1940s was particularly violent. The Japanese Embassy in Beijing was attacked and many Japanese businesses were damaged over several weeks of protests. For China, international incidents (such as the collision of a U.S. EP-3E surveillance plane and a Chinese J-8 fighter near Hainan) usually lead to large nationalist demonstrations directed at the foreign power involved.

In the recent islands dispute, however, only small demonstrations occurred throughout September, most notably outside the Japanese diplomatic posts in Beijing and Shanghai and on the Sept. 18 anniversary of the Mukden Incident. Some of these smaller protests resulted in arrests. The most publicized incident was the detainment of four Japanese citizens accused of videotaping a military installation while scouting a construction site in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province.

Tensions were eased by a meeting by both countries’ prime ministers at the Asia-Europe Meeting Oct. 4 in Brussels, which the respective governments said had come together spontaneously, but had in fact been coordinated earlier. Neither China nor Japan had made any moves on the issue until the sudden outbreak of demonstrations Oct. 15. The issue was growing stale, so the trigger for the renewed protests could only have been organizers carefully coordinating the protests across the country.

The organizers are thought to have been members of university student groups. While not all protestors were university students, the demonstrations in Wuhan, Xi’an and Zhengzhou were made up primarily of students. Messages were spread through online chat rooms and message boards, but so far no names have emerged of individual protest leaders who would have coordinated the demonstrations from city to city.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, nearly condoned the demonstrations by saying, "It is understandable that some people expressed their outrage against the recent erroneous words and deeds on the Japanese side." He also cautioned the protestors to obey the law. Beijing often uses Chinese nationalism and anti-Japanese sentiment to garner domestic support, and these demonstrations were coincidentally timed with the Communist Party of China Plenum. Beijing maintained an increased security presence in front of the Japanese embassy throughout the weekend, but no protests were held there. This lessened the chances of a major international incident while Chinese citizens elsewhere could vent their anger and send their message to Tokyo.

Weeks after the island dispute was thought to have subsided, the sudden outburst of anti-Japanese sentiment could only have been condoned by Beijing in order to focus public angst on an outside power rather than domestic social and economic issues. While the protests resulted in only minor violence, they did show how quickly Chinese nationalist sentiment can come to a boil. During diplomatic disputes between China and other countries, foreign nationals should take care to avoid situations where Chinese nationalism and demonstrations are encouraged. The protests have died down and the release valve seems to have been turned off, but the large cross-provincial coordination by student protestors that came with no apparent warning is a new development and could be a sign of things to come.

Oct. 14

  • Police in Huaibei, Anhui province, arrested a man Oct. 13 for stealing his own vehicle in order to collect insurance compensation, Chinese media reported. In April 2005, the man paid a fee to park his van in a lot in Xuzhou, a nearby city. He returned, stole the van, and asked his brother to hide it back in Huaibei. He then went to the police and reported it stolen. He received 38,000 yuan (about $5,700) from the parking lot manager and 28,000 yuan (about $4,200) from insurance. He gave the van to another relative and the fraud was exposed recently.

  • Farmers protested over a land dispute with the local government and then clashed with police Oct. 13 in Wuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Chinese media reported. The local government confiscated about 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of farmland, but the farmers claimed the compensation was too low. The number of protesters at this time is unknown, but at least a few were injured and multiple police vehicles were overturned.

  • The National Energy Bureau announced that 1,611 small coal mines were shut down in China this year, after instituting stricter regulations. Coal mines have been a major safety issue for both accidents and crime.


Oct. 15


  • Six people were killed by an explosive device in Suzhou, Anhui province. A man took the device to the house of his ex-girlfriend's husband, presumably to hide it and detonate it after his escape. Barking dogs alerted the husband to the intruder and a fight ensued. The man detonated the device, killing himself, and five others nearby, though no details on the device or the victims are available. The case appears to have been an attempted revenge killing.

  • Two men who hired local criminals to kill the vice chairman of the Lianjiang Municipal Political Consultative Conference in 2008 were sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve in Guangdong province. The two men paid the criminals 4,300 yuan (about $650) to stab the official to death as he left his house.

  • Xi'an police announced they arrested 21 suspects and seized fake invoices worth 34 million yuan (about $5.1 million) in Shaanxi province. The investigation began in May, when one suspect was caught with fake parking invoices. Further investigation led to the rest of the group.


Oct. 18


  • A top official at the Center for Drug Evaluation within China's State Food and Drug Administration was sentenced to 11 years in jail for taking 1.3 million yuan (about $196,000) in bribes to help pharmaceutical companies get product licenses. Between 2004 and 2007, he allowed multiple new drugs to bypass required tests, which would have taken one to three years.

  • In a coordinated raid, Guangdong and Macao customs police seized 1.5 tons of ivory on two boats offshore from the Special Administrative Region. The smuggled goods have a market value of 10 million yuan (about $1.5 million). There is a large market for wildlife smuggling in mainland China.

  • A court in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, sentenced a karaoke bar manager to 13 years in prison for forcing teenage girls into prostitution. He tortured four girls, one younger than 14, with electric shock devices and forced them to work at his bar.

  • The Fifth Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) endorsed an earlier decision to expel Kang Rixin, the former head of the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), from the CPC Central Committee, his position at CNNC, and to take away his CPC membership. The decision was endorsing an earlier ruling by the CPC Political Bureau in December 2009. Kang was the head of the CNNC from 2003 until mid-2009, when the CPC began investigating him for abuse of authority. He likely had taken large bribes, but the details of his case are unknown. Some rumors link him to the failed bid by the French nuclear company, Areva, to build plants in China.


Oct. 19


  • About 6,000 Tibetan students protested in Tongren, Qinghai province, against the forced study of Mandarin Chinese, according to Free Tibet, a London-based advocacy group. New education reforms would require all textbooks and teaching in Mandarin with the exception of English and Tibetan language classes. Students from the Tongren National Senior Middle School led a protest march to six different middle schools in the town, gathering more demonstrators as they progressed. Police did not interfere with the protests and the governor and the director general of the prefecture's education department met with students that evening promising not to change the curriculum.

  • Police in five provinces arrested six suspects and seized 6.5 million counterfeit cigarettes worth 10.6 million yuan (about $1.6 million) from an organized smuggling ring. In May, police discovered a truck traveling from Guangdong province to Beijing with 2.2 million counterfeit cigarettes worth 4.07 million yuan (about $613,000). Further investigations uncovered a network operating from Guangdong and distributing the contraband in Fujian, Henan, and Liaoning provinces, as well as Beijing.

  • Four municipal officials in Huzhou, Zhejiang province, were sentenced to jail terms between 12 and 16 years after being convicted of embezzling donations for the 2008 Sichuan earthquake victims. In 2009, a cleaning lady uncovered evidence that the four officials embezzled 650,000 yuan (about $98,000) that was supposed to be sent to Sichuan province.

  • The Beijing Public Security Bureau announced it had deleted 30,000 online posts with information on the illegal selling or production of guns and explosives since March. The Beijing PSB began a major investigation into illegal guns and explosives, and found that many sales occurred over the Internet. They also found directions posted online, many of which were misleading, but some of which could successfully produce weapons.

  • The State Council announced it would launch a new campaign Nov. 1 to stop intellectual property rights infringement. During a meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, the council resolved to stop the production and sale of counterfeit goods. It also plans to make sure all government computers use licensed software. China has a huge industry in counterfeit goods, and the success of this initiative remains doubtful.


Oct. 20


  • A Beijing court sentenced three individuals to 10 years in jail for defrauding 384 people through a telemarketing scheme. The employees of Donghengrongxin Technical Company pretended to be salesman from brand name mobile phone companies such as Samsung and Nokia. They sold counterfeit phones and phone cards to their victims for a profit of 929,000 yuan (about $140,000).

  • Guangdong border guards announced that they seized two vehicles containing 113,000 counterfeit guns in Shantou on Oct. 1. The guns were produced in Shantou and were to be loaded on to a ferry to take to another unknown destination. This region of Guangdong is notorious for counterfeit gun production, and this is the largest seizure in 10 years.

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