Beijing will keep a close eye on public reactions to regional territorial disputes and nip any patriotic protests in the bud to maintain stability, according to a senior government official. In an article on Friday in Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily , Ma Yusheng, deputy director of the party office handling issues affecting social and political stability, said the authorities must prevent sovereignty disputes from triggering mass protests. “[We must] properly handle the relationship between the people’s patriotism and social stability ... identify, contain and deal with them as early as possible,” Ma said. Anti-Japan protests turn violent in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Qingdao The Central Office of Stability Maintenance handles the daily operations of the Central Social Stability Maintenance Leading Group housed at the Ministry of Public Security. Ma’s comments come as Beijing is becoming more assertive about pressing its claims to sovereignty in the East and South China seas. China has carried out extensive reclamation work on islands in disputed areas of the South China Sea and established an air defence identification zone over the East China Sea. The moves have led to increasing unease among China’s neighbours and tension with the US. China is also due to hold its five-yearly party congress later this year, which is likely to see a major power reshuffle within the government’s leadership. On Thursday, President Xi Jinping told a top-level meeting of police, prosecutors and judges, to ensure a “stable environment” for the congress. “[We must] place political safety, especially the safety of the regime at the forefront,” Xi said in written instructions. “[We must] improve our ability to prevent and predict various kind of conflicts.” The authorities usually crack down hard on protests, such as civil rights demonstrations. But they did initially appear to condone anti-Japanese protests in 2012 sparked by Tokyo’s decision to buy the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Both nations claim the islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan. Chinese state media condemns protests at KFC restaurants in wake of South China Sea ruling A small number of protests broke out last year after an international tribunal in The Hague ruled against China’s claims to much of the South China Sea. The protests erupted after state media slammed the ruling as illegal and conspiracy of the United States and its allies. Some protestors focused their demonstrations against fast-food chain KFC. But commentaries then started to appear in state media to try to cool the situation, with one article in People’s Daily saying it was not patriotic to harm the property of Chinese in the name of patriotism. Renmin University political scientist Zhang Ming said Beijing had stoked nationalism through official publications and social media. “[The authorities] will keep using the weapon of nationalism but it seems they want to control it so it won’t backfire. And that is very difficult to do,” Zhang said.