(Photos Couresy of Henry AN)

These are tense times in China…especially if you’re of Japanese descent.

China and Japan are feuding over who owns the Diaoyu Islands (what the Chinese call them) located in the East China Sea. The Japanese name for them is Senkaku .Ships from both countries are actively patrolling the area to keep an eye on each other.

As a result ,protests and in some cases violence has erupted in about 100 cities all across China. A number of Japanese companies have either shut down their factories temporarily or encouraged some of their executives to leave the country. Among the companies affected are Toyota, Mazda, Panasonic, Canon, and 7-11 Stores (in China 7-11 is owned by the Japanese not Americans unlike in our own country). There is a very real fear that executives could be beaten or perhaps killed by an angry mob.

The U.S. Consulate has issued advisories to Americans like myself and colleagues at the college where I teach .They caution us about not getting innocently drawn into situations. Sometimes, even if you’re just watching a protest, the police could easily accuse foreigners of being involved or even actually instigating it!

My United International Colleague colleague, Mike McIlvain and I ran into one loud protest. Instead of stopping to watch, we immediately retreated into another direction. It was probably a good idea since one policeman was giving us dirty and suspicious looks. (They could use that guy on the 33 Expressway in Buffalo when gawkers hold up traffic by slowing down to look at car accidents!!)

This past week, an anniversary seemed to make the situation worse. Back in 1931, Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria in China. So there are some strong ant-Japanese feelings with history behind them. The picture of a Chinese sign across a doorway on this page is in front of a barber shop here in Zhuhai. It says ”Japanese and dogs are not allowed.” There’s a bit of historic payback of sorts here. During the 1940s the Japanese hung similar signs announcing “Chinese and dogs are not allowed” .

On the other hand, there are many Chinese who rely on the Japanese for their livelihoods or daily needs. The factories obviously provide jobs. Jusco is a supermarket chain not only providing jobs but also offering a number of products the Chinese like (Americans too!) that cannot be readily purchased in other stores.

Fortunately, there have only been protests here in Zhuhai…no large scale violence. Still, it does leave Americans wondering about their safety. Colleague McIlvain has a wife back in her home of the Philippines. She and their son were ready to return to China but they decided to hold off because of the tensions. It’s also because China and the Philippines also have a troubled relationship. McIlvain says: “As the old saying goes, I would rather err on the side of caution. Since there are not many Filipinos in mainland China, they tend to stick out. I don’t want to risk the chance of someone hassling my family”.

I have become very conscious about my safety lately. There have been a number of times in my life when I have been in unsafe neighborhoods or short term threatening situations. But this is probably the first time in my life in which where I live has me on guard for safety and security. Ironically, this would be the time that my landlady decided to tear out a badly corroded fence and replace it. So, for several days my extra measure of security was missing.

Of course, not all Chinese support the protests…at least not entirely. Besides the factory workers we mentioned earlier, there are some Chinese with larger stakes in the matter. The two countries are major trade partners to the tune of 345 billion dollars annually according to several economic web sites. That means that certain people in China are making some serious money. Obviously, they don’t want to see anything that might cut off or cripple their cash cow.

So right now the Chinese government is doing a balancing act. It’s leery of disrupting its economic interests. But at the same time it does not want to do or say anything that could be perceived as pro-Japanese. That may further ignite the anti-Japanese disruptions.

Continuing unrest could create deeper problems for the Communist system of rule.