A car carrying Uichiro Niwa, Japan's ambassador to China, was assailed in Beijing on Aug. 27. One of the perpetrators ripped a Japanese flag from the car and made off with it.
Details of the incident are still unclear, but any action that puts the personal safety of a foreign envoy at risk must never be condoned. We strongly demand the Chinese government investigate the incident and ensure there will be no recurrence.
Japan's relations with China are at a critical turn. The mid-August landing by Hong Kong activists on the disputed Senkaku Islands has been followed by flare-ups of anti-Japanese demonstrations around China. The situation demands extra-discreet handling by politicians.
Yet, some politicians are doing the exact opposite with their words and actions that are apparently intended to further provoke our neighbors.
Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara wants to send a survey team to the Senkakus, which the metropolitan government plans to buy. A landing by that team would only exacerbate Japan's already sorely strained relations with China.
The Japanese government was quite right to reject Ishihara's demand.
But Japanese politicians are not the only ones grossly lacking in discretion.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's landing on the disputed Takeshima islands in mid-August has put an unnecessary strain on his country's relations with Japan.
In justifying his action, Lee cited the absence of progress in the "comfort women" issue. But Ishihara reacted with comments that could only rub the South Koreans the wrong way.
Referring to the wartime Imperial Japanese Army's "recruitment" of Korean women for sexual services, the Tokyo governor asserted: "(Those women) chose their profession of their own accord. Show me any proof that the Japanese army forced those Koreans into prostitution."
Jin Matsubara, chairman of the National Public Security Commission, then noted that the Cabinet should review and debate the 1993 statement by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, who admitted the Imperial Japanese Army's involvement in the recruitment of the women and apologized for it.
Although President Lee is to blame for triggering this ugly tit for tat, continuing the feud cannot possibly benefit either side.
The Japanese government has tried in earnest for years to overcome the "comfort women" issue by making amends to the Korean women through the privately funded Asian Women's Fund and other programs.
Sincere efforts have been made by many Japanese citizens representing both the public and private sectors.
But no matter how earnest the efforts, any issue rooted in history cannot be easily overcome.
In a situation such as this, the role of responsible politicians should be to keep explaining Japan's efforts patiently and seek to negotiate a way out of the impasse.
Undoubtedly, the great majority of politicians in Japan, China and South Korea do not want their relations with their neighbors to worsen. We are also certain that many Japanese, Chinese and South Korean citizens are pained by the current state of affairs.
That is because the mutual relations among the three countries have expanded and deepened to a point where severing the ties is no longer an option.
It is the responsibility of politicians to guard against any flare-up of narrow nationalism and stop mutual distrust from spreading. We call upon all citizens of Japan, China and South Korea to refuse to be affected by words and acts of provocation by just a handful of politicians.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 29
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