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April 7, 2005

JAPAN: Honda to scale back business trips to China

Honda Motor will cut back on business trips to China to keep a low profile at a time when anti-Japanese sentiment appears to be running high, the automaker's chief executive reportedly said on Thursday.

Honda Motor will cut back on business trips to China to keep a low profile at a time when anti-Japanese sentiment appears to be running high, the automaker’s chief executive reportedly said on Thursday.

According to the Associated Press (AP), a trade group for Chinese chain stores is calling on its members to stop selling Japanese beer, coffee and other products to protest new Japanese textbooks that critics say whitewash Japan’s World War II atrocities.

Chief executive Takeo Fukui reportedly said Honda’s sales in China remain solid and the boycott call hasn’t hurt its business but the Tokyo-based company is taking precautions so its workers don’t stand out in China, even though anti-Japanese protests appear to be limited to certain areas.

“We are worried,” Fukui told AP at a news conference to unveil a new model in Tokyo, adding: “We want to stay low-key at this sensitive time, and we want to reduce the number of overseas trips.”

The Associated Press said China-Japan ties are currently at a low – Beijing has accused Japan of failing to sufficiently atone for its militarist past and Japan has criticised China for exploring gas fields along their disputed sea border.

Last weekend, AP noted, anti-Japan protesters in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu smashed windows at a store belonging to Japanese retailer Ito-Yokado Co while others in the southern city of Shenzhen waved Chinese flags and chanted “boycott Japanese goods” outside a branch of the Japanese department store Seibu.

The news agency said many Chinese harbour bitter feelings about Japan’s brutal invasion and occupation of China – anti-Japanese sentiment is also regularly fuelled by the communist government’s state-controlled media.

At the same time, the Associated Press noted, China is one of the most lucrative markets for Japanese companies – increasing demand for Japanese products spurred by China’s rapid economic growth has helped Japan emerge from more than a decade of stagnation.

AP added that Honda was among the first Japanese automakers to begin producing cars in China, and the company considers China a critical market – the country’s growing middle class is being targeted by many of the world’s automakers.

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