My Take

HK activists no heroes in Diaoyus dispute

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 10:16pm

"The Bull" must be in seventh heaven. Tsang Kin-shing, who inherited the nickname from his father, has become a national hero as he enters the Legco election race next month. Mainland newspapers have splashed photos of him and his associates earlier this month confronting Japanese coastguards to plant the nation's flag on one of the Diaoyu Islands. Many leading Western newspapers have also carried profiles of the man best known in Hong Kong for his pro-democracy protests and intransigent anti-Beijing stance over several decades.

I consider myself mildly nationalistic; I want to see a resurgent China taking its rightful place among the front rank of nations. But as much as I have tried, I don't understand how perfectly intelligent and educated Chinese, some of whom I consider close friends, think Tsang and his bunch of miscreants are heroes. Other names come to my mind but are too rude to print in a family newspaper.

China may or may not have a strong claim but no amount of history will resolve the dispute. For there is no History, as in the Truth, only versions of it; and partisans adopt the version most suited to their own purpose. To be a nationalist means to love and support your country. Every nation has its own legitimate interests. Often it helps for nations in the same neighbourhood to acknowledge each other's core interests. And, arguably, it's the duty of the responsible nationalist to work out what his country's real interests are and to defend, not to undermine them. By helping to provoke a dangerous anti-Japanese frenzy on the mainland, I don't see how Tsang and his friends are furthering our real national interests.

As a father of young children, I take perhaps a simplistic view of the Diaoyu and other territorial disputes in the region. I call it the kindergarten theory of international relations. A toy left on the floor rarely attracts any kid's attention. But as soon as someone picks it up and plays with it, others want it too. They come to blows and tears flow. But leave it alone for a while and no one wants it.

The disputed islands are a bit like that. Thankfully, after all the sound and fury from the likes of Tsang, adults on both sides are finally trying to mend fences. I say, let the adults into the room.