A Japanese executive has apologised to workers in Dongguan after a protest erupted over his remarks about Japan's occupation of parts of China in the second world war, which he said was not an invasion, media said.
As many as 1,000 workers gathered yesterday outside Alps Electric's joint venture after chairman Masataka Kataoka told managers that Japan's incursion into China in the 1930s was intended to help the country rid itself of US and other colonial powers, Xinhua reported.
A staff member at Dongguan Changan Rihua Electronics Plant, the Alps venture that employs about 5,000 workers, repeated the remarks when reached by telephone.
Kataoka made a public apology to workers, according to a separate report by the Southern Metropolis Daily, after more than 1,000 workers went on strike and kept the Japanese businessman in a conference room.
Pictures circulated online showed hundreds of uniformed workers gathering near the entrance of an office building.
As the incident was unfolding at the Alps factory, Tokyo-based company spokesman Takashi Sogo said the Alps head office was monitoring the situation through Japanese expatriate employees at the plant. According to that information, Kataoka was "meeting with factory workers," the spokesman said.
Xinhua's official weibo microblog posted a photograph that it said showed Kataoka apologising to employees.
The incident triggered heated discussion online.
"Chinese workers with backbones, well-done!," wrote one microblogger. "I am not against Japanese people. I am against their attitude toward history," another user wrote.
Sino-Japanese ties have been strained by maritime disputes, visits by Japanese leaders to Tokyo's Yasukuni war shrine, and by what Beijing says are revisionist comments about Japan's wartime history, in particular the Nanking Massacre of 1937.