China and Japan play cat and mouse over island ownership

The front gate of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, is the front line in an increasingly bitter row.

A target for hatred. Crowds of protesters march past pelting the building with water bottles and fruit.

Today an even bigger security operation, thousands of police and paramilitary officers line the roads around the Embassy, on the anniversary of Japan's invasion of China in the 30s, which is adding to the anger.

Over loudspeakers the police urge people to be peaceful, their voices drowned out by the chants and shouts of thousands.

This is a country were protest is barely tolerated, these demonstrations are sanctioned by the one party state.

Anti-Japan protesters are blocked by riot police during a demonstration in Guangzhou. Credit: Reuters

Chairman Mao is making a noticeable comeback. Many of those marching hold up his famous portrait; signs of a growing nationalism, just weeks before new leaders take over in China.

Even those born after Mao died seem to yearn for the days of a political strongman. Tian Lei a 25 year old protester told me: "In my mind Mao is sacred, he created everything we have, he's our spiritual leader."

In the dangerous waters where Chinese fishing boats play cat and mouse with Japan's coastguard, both countries claim they own the uninhabited rocky outcrops, and the rights to fish and drill for gas around them.

Aerial photo of Chinese ocean surveillance, fishery patrol ships and Japan Coast Guard patrol ship. Credit: Reuters/Kyodo

While Chinese marine surveillance vessels briefly entered Japanese waters today. Japanese protesters landed on the contested shores.

The response from China's government spokesman Hong Lei was blunt: "The China of today is no longer the kind of country to be bullied, we will not allow our land to be invaded".

In Beijing, all Japanese firms closed and many citizens flew home to Tokyo. One businesswoman, Yuko Kitazawa told Reuters: "I was ordered by my company to return to Japan as things were getting dangerous in the city".

Both sides are being urged to resolve this dispute with diplomacy, while many on the streets, given the chance to shout it, are loudly demanding tougher action.