The current increase in anti-Japanese fervour in China is a worrying trend. Neither Japan nor China is free and clear in the escalation of tensions, with hawks from both sides seeking to take advantage of the situation for their own political needs. With the attack on the Japanese Ambassadors official vehicle yesterday, the tone of the protests has clearly darkened. The Chinese government, especially the faction inside the Communist Party pushing these demonstrations, needs to be very wary of how far they are willing to let these violent protests grow.
Recent protests about purely domestic issues of land usage and pollution have shown the growing willingness of the Chinese people to risk injury, death, and imprisonment to stand up for their rights. A large portion of the Chinese population is not willing to risk their personal safety and well-being to protest the Japanese or disobey police commands to disperse when protesting the Japanese. However, there is a large enough percentage of the population whose dislike of Japan may exceed their willingness to compromise. These people are potential sparks ready to ignite greater and wider demonstrations, especially if they are willing to ignore orders to disperse or stop protesting.
While this spark has not occurred in past instances of fervent anti-Japanese protests, this time might be different. The economy is faltering, the people have less faith than ever in their political institutions, and they have seen the power of protest succeed in the last few months. All of these combine to create a small and growing chance that one of these protests will reach a point of no return. If this happens bloodshed is unfortunately assured. In these situations, it is not unique to China for protests to turn deadly; this is a disturbing trait we as humans share.
Bloodshed could take the form of an innocent Japanese national attacked, or a native Chinese who works at a Japanese retailer could be killed in violent protests, or the local Public Security Bureau could use excessive force to control “unapproved” demonstrations and kill a protestor. The potential for unintended consequences abounds. There is a saying in Chinese “搬起石头砸自己的脚 – Lift a stone and drop it on one’s own foot”, which neatly sums up potential problems with these protests as they now stand. It is my hope the factions involved in the current CCP handover of power can see the extremely large potential downside in these protests. I believe this is a case where caution and “maintaining public stability” should be first and foremost.