TOKYO — Japanese retailers and manufacturers are still assessing the aftermath of large-scale protests that took place in several Chinese cities over the weekend amid a growing diplomatic row about the ownership of a small chain of uninhabited islands controlled by Japan but over which both countries claim sovereignty.
This story first appeared in the September 18, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
According to press reports, thousands of Chinese citizens took to the streets attacking Japanese-run businesses, including department stores and supermarkets, and demonstrating outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing. Japan-China relations have plunged to fresh lows since a move by Tokyo last week to secure rights to the islands, located in the ocean between the two countries, by buying them from the private Japanese citizens who owned them.
One wire image showed protestors breaking the window of a building housing a Seibu department store in Shenzhen. A spokeswoman for Dickson Concepts International Ltd., the Hong Kong-based parent company that runs the store, confirmed that the store was damaged but declined to comment further on the extent. She said the store was open on Monday.
In Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, at least one branch of the Japanese-owned Heiwado department store was damaged, according to a local news Web site. Calls to all three of Heiwado’s locations in Changsha went unanswered Monday.
A Shiseido spokesman said protesters damaged an unspecified number of the company’s sales counters at retailers such as hypermarket Jusco, part of Aeon Co. Ltd., and Heiwado. He did not have more information about the scope of the damage, but he said the affected stores are closed for the time being. The spokesman characterized the damage as part of broader attacks on the retailers rather than violence targeting Shiseido specifically.
Some major Japanese players in China appear to have survived the protests without major incident — at least for now. A spokesman for Fast Retailing Co. Ltd., which operates about 145 Uniqlo stores in Mainland China, said the company hasn’t received any reports of damage to its stores or employees. He acknowledged protests have affected sales but said he could not quantify the impact. A spokesman for Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. said the retailer decided to close its Isetan store in Chengdu a couple hours earlier than normal on Monday and might curtail operating hours on Tuesday as a precautionary measure. He said there have been no reports of damage at the Chengdu store or at the group’s four other stores in China.
Tuesday is the anniversary of a controversial incident that precipitated Japan’s invasion of China in the Thirties, meaning it’s possible that more protests could take place in the coming days. China and Japan, the world’s second- and third-largest economies, respectively, have a long and complicated history stretching back centuries and are significant trade partners.
At least 80,000 Chinese participated in protests in 85 cities over the weekend, with some turning violent in Xi’an, Dongguan, Changsha and Qingdao, where demonstrators smashed windows of Japanese stores and overturned cars made in Japan, Chinese media reported.
A front-page editorial in Monday’s edition of the People’s Daily newspaper, which is considered the mouthpiece of the Chinese government, warned that China would consider economic sanctions if Japan does not abandon its claim that islands in the East China Sea are not under Chinese jurisdiction. Last week, Japan decided to buy the islands, which Beijing calls the Diaoyu and Tokyo calls the Senkaku.