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Anti-Japanese protests in China

Japanese firms have shut down its factories in China after violent anti-Japanese protests.

A man holds a Chinese flag as protesters take part in an anti-Japanese protest outside the Japanese consulate. Picture: AFP.

SHANGHAI - Major Japanese firms have shut down factories in China and urged expatriate workers on Monday to stay indoors after angry protests flared over a territorial dispute that threatened to hurt trade ties between Asia's two biggest economies.

China's worst outbreak of anti-Japan sentiment in decades led to weekend protests and violent attacks on well-known Japanese businesses such as car-makers Toyota and Honda, forcing frightened expatriates into hiding and prompting Chinese state media to warn that trade relations could now be in jeopardy.

"I'm not going out today and I've asked my Chinese boyfriend to be with me all day tomorrow," said Sayo Morimoto, a 29-year-old Japanese graduate student at a university in Shenzhen.

Japanese housewife and mother Kayo Kubo, who lives in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou, said her young family and other Japanese expats were also staying home after being terrified by the scale and mood of the weekend protests in dozens of cities.

"There were so many people and I've never seen anything like it. It was very scary," she said.

China and Japan, which generated two-way trade of $345 billion last year, are arguing over a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, a long-standing dispute that erupted last week when the Japanese government decided to buy some of them from a private Japanese owner.

The move, which infuriated Beijing, was intended by Japan's government to fend off what it feared would be seen as an even more provocative plan by the nationalist governor of Tokyo to buy and build facilities on the islands.

In response, China sent six surveillance ships to the area, which contains potentially large gas reserves. On Monday, a flotilla of around 1,000 Chinese fishing boats were sailing for the islands and was due to reach them later in the day, the state-owned People's Daily said on its micro blog.

Last weekend's protests mainly targeted Japanese diplomatic missions but also shops, restaurants and car dealerships in at least five cities. Toyota and Honda said arsonists had badly damaged their stores in the eastern port city of Qingdao at the weekend.

However, Toyota said its factories and offices were operating as normal on Monday and that it had not ordered home its Japanese employees in China.

Japanese electronics group Panasonic said one of its plants had been sabotaged by Chinese workers and would remain closed through Tuesday, the anniversary of Japan's 1931 occupation of parts of mainland China, a date that Tokyo fears could cause another dangerous outbreak of anti-Japan sentiment.

Japan has warned its citizens about large-scale protests in China on Tuesday. Many Japanese schools across China, including in Beijing and Shanghai, have cancelled classes this week.