Japan’s arrest of Hong Kong-based activists who illegally landed on one of the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea triggered a fresh wave of anti-Japanese protests in China.
In Japan, the illegal landings by Chinese activists provoked angry reactions, prompting 10 Japanese nationals, including local assembly members, to land on the islet without obtaining permission from the government.
On the Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan, which are claimed by both Japan and South Korea, the South Korean government has erected a stone monument bearing the name of President Lee Myung-bak, who recently paid a visit to the disputed islands. It was another thoughtless act by the country following Lee’s landing on one of the islets.
Japan and its two close neighbors are again locked in emotionally charged clashes over long-standing territorial disputes. How long can such fruitless diplomatic rows between the neighbors with close ties continue?
The power base of the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is weak.
It is difficult for China’s leadership, which is now preparing for a change of generation in autumn, to make any important political move.
In South Korea, which is gearing up for a scheduled presidential election at the end of the year, President Lee’s political power has waned markedly.
This is certainly a difficult time for the three nations to tackle touchy diplomatic issues.
Yet it is hard to understand why political leaders in these countries, who should try to pour oil on troubled diplomatic waters, are instead taking actions that pour oil on the flames.
They should try to resolve the disputes through proper diplomatic channels in order to calm the situation.
The latest wave of anti-Japanese demonstrations in China looked like a replay of the outbursts of hostility toward Japan in 2010 triggered by the collision between a Chinese trawler and Japan Coast Guard vessels off the Senkaku Islands.
In Beijing and Shanghai, there were only some small-scale demonstrations as the cities were on high alert. But in other cities, including Shenzhen, situated immediately north of Hong Kong, many demonstrators went on a rampage, attacking and damaging Japanese cars and restaurants.
What happened in China is deeply distressing given the growing economic interdependence between Japan and China, with annual bilateral trade now worth more than 27 trillion yen.
Chinese people should realize that such violent acts only hurt their country’s international image.
But Japan should not overreact to the anti-Japanese protests in the country.
These demonstrations are driven partly by public discontent over social problems in China, such as the rapidly growing gap between the rich and poor and rampant corruption.
The Chinese government’s greatest fear is the possibility that it may become the principal target of public criticism. Beijing doesn’t want any further spread of the anti-Japanese demonstrations.
Many comments critical of the violent anti-Japanese protesters have appeared in the Chinese Internet community, such as “What’s the point of destroying Chinese citizens’ cars?”
The Japanese government has hardened its attitude toward South Korea, partly because of Lee’s recent remarks demanding the emperor’s “heartfelt” apology over Japan’s wartime acts.
Tokyo has announced a plan to refer the Takeshima dispute to the International Court of Justice. In addition, Finance Minister Jun Azumi has indicated that Japan might scrap a bilateral agreement with South Korea to expand their foreign-exchange swap arrangement.
It is important for Japan to articulate its position on the issue. But it is not wise for Tokyo to take action on an unrelated matter that may look like a sanction against South Korea.
If such an action undermines the stability of the South Korean economy, Japan could also suffer.
Azumi has also decided not to attend bilateral talks on financial issues slated for late August.
But this is exactly the time for Japan to seek serious and constructive diplomatic talks with South Korea.
It is vital for Japan to keep its relations with both China and South Korea firmly on a path of steady progress. Japanese political leaders need to think calmly about what kind of responses to the situation would be in the best interest of their nation.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 21
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