Nations' strained relations raise questions among young people on both sides studying in Beijing It was a jaw-dropping moment to mark the start of the new academic year for one language studies department in Beijing. At the end of a student performance of a Japanese folk song, an 18-year-old freshman on the stage raised his arms and shouted: 'Down with Japanese militarism!' The outburst astonished every student and teacher in the audience. But the student's actions also highlighted the dilemma of Chinese students opting to study the Japanese language and culture who have to deal with growing anti-Japanese sentiment at home. 'I can only talk about leisure-related topics with my Japanese friends. If we touch such issues as Sino-Japanese relations and recent events concerning Japan, the conversation cannot go on,' said Zhang Qian , a postgraduate student at Beijing Foreign Languages Studies University's Japanese Research Centre. Last month about 20 protesters outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing voiced opposition to Tokyo's bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. On the same day, a number of cities set off sirens to mark the anniversary of Japan's 1931 invasion. The acrimony is fuelled by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to the Yasukuni War Shrine, the discovery of chemical weapons abandoned by the Imperial Japanese Army in Heilongjiang province and a territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands. Also at issue is China's repeated urging of the Japanese government not to whitewash history. 'Since this year, anti-Japan attitudes have greatly influenced the Chinese students' enthusiasm about studying Japanese,' a Beijing University Japanese Department lecturer said. 'All Japanese-language learners or people engaged in Japanese affairs become silent when we touch on the Sino-Japan relationship or the historic issues. We have nothing to say.' A 23-year-old journalism student learning Japanese said that the more she 'knew about the nation's characteristics, the more she dislikes Japan'. But the government has started a drive to bring young people of both countries closer together. On September 25, about 50 young Chinese and Japanese met to try to establish areas of common ground, discussing topics ranging from sport to music. The event was the first of its kind and sponsored by the Beijing People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and the Association of Japanese in Beijing. A forum organiser said there were numerous Chinese applicants hoping to take part in the event and some asked to watch if they could not participate. 'Whatever happens, friendship between the ordinary people of the two countries will never be severed,' association chairman Liu Shusheng said. 'We just want to create an opportunity for youth.' Yoshikazu Kato, a 20-year-old major in Sino-Japanese relations at Peking University's School of International Studies, said there are many disputes between the two countries and prejudices on both sides. 'I know many of my fellow citizens may not agree but I think our government should apologise to China and Chinese people,' Ms Kato said. But Pang Zhongying, director of Tianjin's Nankai University Institute of Global Studies, said the image the countries had of each other had deteriorated. He said there is no sign of visits by the top leaders of the two countries anytime soon. 'The Chinese government has made good overtures to improve the mutual relationship and reduce the tension,' he said. 'But the Japanese government has not made any friendly signs to demonstrate their willingness to soften the anger of Chinese people. This will be an obstacle to easing the growing dissatisfaction. 'Even if the Chinese people sometimes express their anger in an extreme way, most of their feelings are understandable and aren't without foundation.'