Time to act with some dignity

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 September, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 September, 1996, 12:00am

A week ago my fellow columnist Andy Ho commented extensively in Ming Pao on my commentary about the Diaoyutai cause in the South China Morning Post. Such attention to my thoughts flatters me and I feel obliged to answer some of Mr Ho's observations.

My opinion piece stated explicitly that history is on the side of the Chinese claim on the islets which the early Ming Dynasty navy had patrolled and which continues to be a rich fishing bank for our trawlers. A local Chinese newspaper even reported that a Qing Dynasty emperor had awarded the islets to an ancestor of a Hong Kong person who now works for the Government Information Services Department.

Mr Ho is troubled by the word 'scoundrels' used by me to describe overly zealous nationalists. He should be assured that the term in my article refers to the Japanese militants and not to the Chinese patriots who for more than a quarter century have never acted as much as reacted to periodic provocation, the latest being the hoisting of an alien flag and the building of a beacon on one of the islets.

I am as dismayed as anybody else, not just about the Japanese navy's expulsion of our press and fishermen from Taiwan from what is our territorial waters, but I am also startled that the United States should absolve itself of any responsibility for the row by 'not recognising any country's sovereignty' over the islets, forgetting that it had handed them to Japanese administration in the 1970s without consulting history.

But I disagree with Mr Ho that the Diaoyutai situation is exactly analogous to the Hong Kong one, even though both have to do with foreign occupation of Chinese soil.

What is similar, however, is that just as the Hong Kong question was settled in 1984 by diplomatic means, the Diaoyutai business must also be resolved peacefully so that Chinese sovereignty is fully respected and the dignity of the other side is not entirely injured. War must always be the absolute last resort in any international scenario.

East and Southeast Asia have prospered partly because countries here have opted to talk rather than fight over their territorial claims. We can see that all around us: Malaysia and Indonesia have an understanding over their Borneo boundaries, Malaysia and the Philippines have resisted the military option over their land disputes, Thailand and Laos have silenced their guns over a jungle strip, Cambodia has lifted Vietnamese control of some parts of its territory through dialogue.

Calm deliberation of emotive issues between nations is not a sign of weakness or lack of resolve but of being civilised. We Chinese must be firm in regard to our territorial integrity but gentle yet persuasive in pursuit of our aims through a unity of purpose.

Yes, I appreciate that we, myself certainly included, feel very strongly about Diaoyutai and the recalcitrant, revisionist ways of Japanese ultra-nationalists who are affronting our pride with their illegal activities on the islets and their refusal to atone for the atrocities committed against other Asians during World War II.

How can anyone of us not be moved when we reflect on the terror and cruelty inflicted on our people? How can we not be stirred to hear the sex slaves, the euphemistically branded 'comfort women', recall their suffering and humiliation? Again, to reaffirm: Where I differ from Mr Ho is that I believe the memory of our 20 million or more countrymen who died during the Japanese invasion and occupation can be better served not by another military conflict but by our graciousness in diplomacy, firmness of determination and righteousness of principle which befit the great nation that is our China.