The Chinese embassy in Tokyo has called on all Chinese citizens in Japan to voluntarily register with its consular section as tensions between the two countries reach new heights over a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.
The embassy called on all the Chinese living in Japan to register “to facilitate consular assistance” in case of “a major unexpected emergency”, according to a statement on its website. Chinese living in Japan were asked to submit contact details of next of kin in Japan and China.
According to Japanese census data, there are more than 600,000 people of Chinese descent living in Japan. Chinese media have reported the majority of this group are students, business people and employees of Japanese companies, but it is unclear how many of them have retained Chinese citizenship.
A registration form was uploaded on the diplomatic mission’s homepage in early November, but attracted widespread attention over the weekend after China announced on Saturday it was setting up an “air defence identification zone” in the East China Sea, which covers the disputed Diaoyu Islands.
The zone, which overlaps roughly in half of Japanese airspace claims, requires all airplanes crossing it to report to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the civil aviation administration. China launched an aerial patrol to enforce the claims on Saturday, while Japan deployed two fighter jets to intercept the patrols.
The US and South Korea has expressed concern over the move. Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida warned of the “danger of unpredictable events on the spot” in a reaction on Sunday.
The call for registration with the embassy comes amid record resentment amongst the Japanese public towards China. According to a Japanese cabinet poll released on Saturday, 80.7 per cent of Japanese “do not feel friendly” towards China, the worst percentage since the annual poll was launched in 1978, according to the Kyodo News Agency. 91 per cent of those polled said bilateral ties were currently “not good” or “not particularly good”.
Dr Stephen Nagy, assistant professor at the Department of Japanese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the growing resentment towards China reflects a shift in perceptions towards the country’s largest partner.
“Many Japanese used to look at the government being the problem in China, but [we’re] seeing widespread hostility towards Japanese residents and businesses in China […] resentment has moved from the state to the grassroots level,” he said.
Nagy, who teaches contemporary Japan-China relations, said the call for registration was not a genuine effort to account for the country’s Chinese population, but a covert show of force. “700,000 Chinese live, study and work in Japan,” he said. “This is more of a tactical gesture by the Chinese government to put pressure on Japan.”
Dr Sheila A. Smith, a senior fellow for Japan Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington, said the Chinese announcement during the weekend "stepped up the possibility of an incident between the two militaries."
"It confirms what many around the region have feared - China's leaders are determined to pursue their interests with little heed to their neighbours," she said.