Chinese vendors stay home after anti-Japan protests

Many Chinese firms canceled their attendance at the Japanese electronics show after recent anti-Japan riots

On the teeming floors of Japan's largest electronics show, it's tough to stop and catch your breath.

The steady current of attendees pulls you along at Ceatec, past a solid facade of booming stage shows, young women hawking their booths and fuzzy characters with free trinkets. But in the halls devoted to electronic components, there is plenty of room to relax this year, with large benches and tables scattered among the exhibits.

The rest stops were supposed to be booths from Chinese exhibitors. Many failed to show, however, after anti-Japan protests swept China several weeks ago, with rioters smashing their way into Panasonic factories, destroying Toyota dealerships and even attacking locals with Japanese products.

Ceatec organizers were forced to improvise when at least 22 Chinese companies canceled their attendance at the last minute. Anti-Japan protests are common in China, especially around the Sept. 19 anniversary of Japan's invasion of what is now Chinese soil, but this year the protests were unusually violent, and video clips were replayed endlessly on Japanese TV. The demonstrations have flared up as the decades-old debate over islands near Taiwan that are claimed by both China and Japan resurfaced in the news.

It was unclear whether the cancellations were out of solidarity with the anti-Japan protests or fear of retribution.

"My family was very worried and told me not to come, but this is my job, after all," said Yang Yuling, who made the trip with CWB Automotive, a Shanghai-based parts manufacturer that was one of about 32 Chinese companies that made the trip.

Yang, who works as a quality manager at the company and speaks fluent Japanese, said she had experienced no threats or safety issues, although business has been tough.

"It is very difficult for us right now financially in Japan," she said, adding that CWB has postponed plans to open a local branch.

On the exhibition floor, there was no sign of any retribution for the violent protests. Show goers seemed grateful for the extra space, sprawling on the extra benches and using empty booths for impromptu business meetings.

The biggest Chinese presence at Ceatec is Huawai. The company has a large space with an hourly runway show, featuring Japanese models that cradle its new Ascend smartphones and tablets. Huawei, which is also a world-leading maker of telecom equipment, has been entangled in political battles before, with Western governments accusing it of building networks that give access to Chinese spies.

Representatives at the company would say only that the company is at Ceatec for business, to celebrate the launch of its new phones in Japan. Company officials refused interviews about anything else, a tack taken by other Chinese exhibitors as well.

"There have been no problems!" proclaimed Zhang Tingfeng, a marketing representative for Xiamen SET Electronics, when asked about the riots.

"We have had many good conversations and received many business cards," she said, standing in front of display cases filled with rows of tiny components.

Japanese executives, many of whom have made big bets on the exploding Chinese consumer market, have repeatedly said they just want business to get back to normal.

"Right now it's the very important selling season for the Chinese market, and it's just begun, so we'll just have to see how that pans out," said Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai as he visited his company's booth on the show's first day.

"But just generally speaking, I'm hopeful that the situation will better itself sooner rather than later."

Attendees on the show floor were mostly unconcerned with what Chinese companies are doing at Ceatec, seen by many as an annual celebration of Japan's tech prowess. An electronics repairman who has come to the show each year for the last decade said he wasn't convinced the riots were a major issue.

"I'm not sure how bad the situation over there really is, or if it's just being played up by the media," he said, asking that his name not be used in a sensitive story about China.

"Either way, there's no danger here. The Japanese don't have that kind of fervor."

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