Rosanjin Kitaoji (1883-1959), a noted restaurateur, once said: "Fish are a funny thing. When you grill them, they seem to take forever to brown if you keep your eyes on them. But the moment you take your eyes off them, they start burning."
The disputed Senkaku Islands are a bit like fish in that regard. After being left alone for years by the Japanese government, these remote islands in the East China Sea are now billowing black smoke, so to speak.
Following on the heels of the Hong Kong activists, a group of 10 Japanese citizens--which included local assembly members--landed on the islet of Uotsurishima on Aug. 19. Since the Senkakus are Japanese territory, one could quite reasonably assume there is no reason for anyone to get upset about Japanese citizens waving Hinomaru national flags from one of the islands. But as the Japanese government feared, China vehemently disagrees.
Reports by China's state television of the landing by Japanese "right-wingers" spurred anti-Japanese demonstrators, who were already itching to take to the streets, to stage protests in more than 20 cities. In local cities, rioters attacked Japanese restaurants and cars and overturned police patrol cars.
Once their discontent gets ratcheted up online, the masses are quick to take their anger out on the establishment. With a major power shift coming up this autumn, the Beijing leadership will have to play hardball with Japan in diplomacy as well as military matters, so as not to appear weak-kneed to the people. The relationship between Japan and China is like a wooden house that could easily be set aflame by the smoldering of these remote islands.
China began claiming the Senkaku Islands four decades ago, when it realized there were rich resources buried in the seabed. All these years, the Japanese government avoided confrontation with Beijing by leaving the islands alone. Now I wish the government had had the foresight to build up a solid track record of Japanese ownership. And in the Sea of Japan, South Korea has been "developing" the Takeshima islets in total disregard of Japan's rightful claim on them.
Mutual acts of provocation, both at the governmental and civilian levels, can only exacerbate these territorial disputes. Since Japan, China and South Korea are about to face varying degrees of political transition shortly, I believe now is the time for all three to try to settle their historical disputes and all other issues stemming from World War II by putting aside their recent mutual animosity and talking matters out in earnest.
But it is getting increasingly difficult to "adjust the grill," to maintain calm composure and firm determination at the same time.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 21
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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