Number of Japanese living in China dropped by 10% last year, amid island row

TOKYO (AFP) - The number of Japanese living in China fell more than 10 per cent in 2013, figures showed, amid flaring nationalism and a dispute over the ownership of an island chain.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that 135,078 Japanese nationals lived in China during the year to October 2013, down 10.19 per cent from the previous 12 months.

The drop comes after successive yearly population increases in a country that is a crucial economic partner for Tokyo, despite often-strained ties.

"The decrease can be partly blamed on the worsening view of Japan among Chinese students and business people because of deteriorating diplomatic relations," said economist Shinichi Seki, who specialises in China at the Japan Research Institute.

"In addition to that, we are seeing living conditions in China becoming worse," he said, referring particularly to the often hazardous levels of air pollution that blanket major Chinese cities.

Relations have worsened sharply since September 2012, when Tokyo nationalised islands in the East China Sea that it has administered for over a century under the name Senkakus, but which are claimed by Beijing as the Diaoyus.

Sometimes-violent anti-Japan street protests erupted across China, with rocks thrown at Japanese diplomatic missions and mobs attacking Japanese businesses.

Although the protests calmed, the row has continued and coast guard vessels from both sides patrol the waters to try to assert sovereignty in what some observers see as a flashpoint issue that could provoke conflict.

While most commentators think this fear exaggerated, the countries' two ideologue leaders, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and China's President Xi Jinping, have not held a one-on-one meeting since both coming to power more than 18 months ago.

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