GUANGZHOU, China, Nov. 22 (Kyodo) — Japanese automakers on Thursday vowed to expand their businesses in China despite slumping sales in a boycott of Japanese cars and other products in the country amid heightened tensions over the Japanese-administered, Chinese-claimed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

"As we are now in a difficult situation, we would like to operate in China while showing deep respect and interest in the country," Hiroji Onishi, a senior managing officer of Toyota Motor Corp. who oversees the company's China business, said at the press day of the 10th China (Guangzhou) International Automobile Exhibition in Guangzhou, southern China.

Onishi said Toyota plans to launch 20 new vehicles in the next three years in China, the world's largest automotive market, and that the company wants to contribute to growth of the Chinese car industry through increased technological development featuring new energy and energy-saving.

It is the first time that Japanese automakers have carried out large-scale exhibits in China of their products since anti-Japan demonstrations erupted in the country in September in the wake of the Japanese government's purchase of part of the Senkaku Islands from a private Japanese owner earlier that month.

Other players such as Honda Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. also said that despite risk factors such as vandalism and arson in automakers' plants and sales outlets, they still regard China as one of their most important markets.

"We remain committed to the Chinese market," Seiji Kuraishi, chief of China operations at Honda, told journalists, suggesting the company will increase campaigns to promote its hybrid cars in the country.

During demonstrations in September, some protesters vandalized sales outlets of Japanese carmakers and attacked Japanese cars on the streets. The ensuing boycott of Japanese cars and other products led to sharp falls in sales of Japanese vehicles in China.

Opening to the public on Friday, the motor show, known as Auto Guangzhou, will run through Dec. 2 at China Import & Export Fair Complex in the city. Organizers estimate more than 500,000 people will visit the site during the period.

Toyota sets up the biggest booth in terms of floor space since it participated in the Guangzhou exhibition. Honda and Nissan Motor Co. are operating booths on an equal scale to last year's.

Showcasing a total of eight fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly models using electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid technology, the Toyota booth features the Chinese debut of the "Venza" crossover sport utility vehicle slated for launch next year.

Mazda features the Chinese debut of the CX-9 crossover SUV, scheduled to be launched next year, and the "Takeri" concept sedan.

Sales of Japanese cars in China fell 59.4 percent in October from a year earlier to 98,900 units, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. It was the first time that single-month sales of Japanese cars in China have dropped below 100,000 units since 2009.

Accordingly, Japanese carmakers' share of the Chinese market dropped from 20.2 percent in June, the top among foreign automakers, to 7.6 percent in October.

Despite dismal data, signs of positive developments have emerged in economic ties between the two countries such as the resumption of businesses in China by retailer Heiwado Co. and other Japanese companies that had been suspended following violent protests in September.

Similarly, the trade ministers of Japan, China and South Korea announced Tuesday in Cambodia the launch of negotiations for a trilateral free trade agreement early next year, despite strained political relations.