Wen Jiabao

Let's embrace tomorrow

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 April, 2005, 12:00am

This pointless sniping between China and Japan has to stop. We have heard enough about war records, UN Security Council seats, gas exploration in the East China Sea, oil pipelines from Siberia and history textbooks. Then there are disputed islands, overseas development aid, Taiwan's security, North Korea's nuclear proliferation and support for the Dalai Lama.

And let's not forget the hosting of American military bases, who can get the most free-trade agreements with East Asian countries and which nation has the best football team. Oh, and they are also arguing about agricultural exports, the source of bird flu, submarines violating sovereignty, and fishing boundaries.

More broadly, each claims to have the most superior civilisation and culture, and is therefore best equipped to lead Asia. Debate even rages over whether cheongsams are sexier than kimonos, and the origins of sushi.

I mean, if they had something to argue about, I could understand the bickering. Besides, everyone knows that penguins were the first to eat raw fish.

A glance at Chinese and Japanese websites yesterday revealed that emotions run deep across Northeast Asian waters. Rude comments were posted about leaders, attitudes and ideology.

These sentiments are well known to me, having been brought up in Australia, just across the way from New Zealand. Each claims superiority, be it in sporting ability, wine production, talent of their respective authors, pop stars and actors, or the best natural scenery. There is nothing uglier than being surrounded by locals in a crowded bar on the wrong side of the Tasman Sea and unwittingly revealing your nationality just as the rugby game on the television ends with your team snatching victory.

Some nations are more tolerant than others. On holiday in Belgium years ago, I marvelled at the friendliness of the people in one village as a car-load of German tourists pulled up to a restaurant. Doubtless, the staff were aware of the atrocities committed in the area by German troops during the second world war, but that seemed furthest from their minds as they joked with their guests.

Europeans have generally put the past behind them, and Germany has willingly atoned for its misdeeds. All are looking to the future, not behind their backs at what the other is doing.

It is a far cry from the bad-tempered anti-Japanese protests on the mainland over the past week. On show was racism, ignorance of the issues, and intolerance. Nor are Japanese blameless - their one-sidedness and efforts to inflame sentiment are just as deplorable.

This is why I have invited Premier Wen Jiabao and his Japanese counterpart Junichiro Koizumi to partake in some diplomacy at a restaurant near you, some time very soon.

I have chosen neutral ground - McDonald's - so that both can take advantage of the latest wind-up toy promotion. With luck, when they meet, it will be the world leaders' collection, so that during the talks, Mr Wen can play with his model of US President George W. Bush and Mr Koizumi can try out his of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

After the fish burgers, fries and apple pies, out will come the crates of Tsingtao beer and sake, and when vocal chords are lubricated, the karaoke will be wheeled in.

Herein lies my clever plan. Singing together will create mutual trust, camaradarie and respect. During the chorus of Tomorrow, from the musical Annie, they can embrace for the cameras and vow to let bygones be bygones.

Their soaring duet will set the tone for future relations as they sing:

The sun'll come out, Tomorrow,

Bet your bottom dollar, That Tomorrow, There'll be sun!

'Just thinkin' about Tomorrow, Clears away the cobwebs. And the sorrow. 'Til there's none!'

Peter Kammerer is the Post's foreign editor




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