Protesters burn a replica of the Japanese flag at a protest in Wuhan, in central China, on Sunday. (Photo/AP)
DHARAMSHALA, September 17: China’s army began conducting military exercises, including aerial drills in Tibet and capturing of islands in East China sea, as anti-Japan protests, laced with war cries, turned violent in many cities.
According to the state-run CCTV, China’s People's Liberation Army began its annual week-long military drills aimed at testing the forces' land and sea capabilities and their ability to survive in harsh environments.
PLA’s naval forces practiced capture of islands in the East China Sea, while its air force cruised with live ammunition over the Himalayas. In July the PLA fighter jets practiced night exercises in Tibet.
The drills coincided with two days of widespread anti-Japan demonstrations following Japan's decision to buy the small group of disputed islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Chinese police had to use pepper spray, tear gas and water cannon to break up protests. In Beijing, demonstrators besieged the Japanese embassy, hurling rocks, eggs and bottles while parading portraits of Mao Zedong.
Japanese broadcaster NHK said demonstrators looted shops and attacked Japanese cars and restaurants in at least five Chinese cities. It added that the protests had spread to at least 72 cities.
The Nikkei business newspaper said demonstrators earlier attacked two Panasonic electronic parts plants in the eastern cities of Qingdao and Suzhou and set fire to Toyota vehicle dealerships causing damage to many vehicles.
Japan's prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, deplored the violence and urged the Chinese government to protect the safety of Japanese nationals and Japan-affiliated companies.
Dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who recently said he would “feel ashamed” to visit Tibet following the ongoing wave of self-immolations by Tibetans, told Reuters he believed the demonstrations were sanctioned by the government and the police.
"Chinese citizens need to thank the Japanese government because for the first time, they can mount a large protest on their own land," Ai said. "In China, there are no protests organised by the people."
Despite their deepening economic ties, China and Japan have long been at odds over bitter memories of Japan's military aggression in the 1930s and 1940s.
More protests are expected on Tuesday, when China marks its official September 18 memorial day for Japan's war-time occupation of parts of China
Amidst the heightening of tensions, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Tokyo on Sunday to discuss with Japanese officials the realignment of U.S. military basing in Japan and expanding ballistic missile defense cooperation before heading to Beijing to try to deepen and broaden military-to-military ties.