BEIJING (AFP) – One of Japan's biggest newspapers said Thursday its social media accounts have been deleted in China, amid a bitter territorial dispute between the two countries.
The Asahi Shimbun's head office in Tokyo said that all four of its microblogging accounts in China were shut down this week in what it described as an "abnormal situation".
"It would be really regrettable if the accounts had been closed intentionally despite the large number of followers... we strongly request the operators reopen the accounts as soon as they can," it said.
Users of Sina Weibo, a microblogging service similar to Twitter, said the newspaper's account disappeared on Wednesday after having gathered around 1.3 million followers.
The reason for the account's deletion was unclear. Sina, which runs the social media service, was not immediately available for comment.
It was not clear what services the other accounts were on.
A former social media editor for the newspaper, posting under the name Wangzuo Zhongyou, wrote that the accounts were taken down because of "instructions from above", without giving details.
Some Sina Weibo users on Thursday posted icons of candles in memory of the account's disappearance.
Beijing has previously blocked the websites of foreign media organisations including the New York Times and Bloomberg after they published reports on topics deemed taboo by the ruling Communist Party.
China and Japan have for decades disputed the ownership of a string of islands in the East China Sea known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese.
Beijing stepped up its rhetoric and sent patrol ships to surrounding waters after Tokyo nationalised three islands in the chain in September last year, in what it said was a mere administrative change of ownership from a private owner.
China insists the islands were part of its territory until Japan annexed them in 1895 at the start of a half-century of acquisitive invasions that culminated in World War II.