Diplomacy needed

It is not difficult to understand the discomfort Japanese ministers must feel as they travel throughout Asia trying to promote a positive image of their country and build ties with its neighbours, only to be confronted with demonstrations wherever they go.

It is, nevertheless, hardly the sign of a nation at ease with its past and confident in the rectitude of its position when such ministers find it necessary to duck through back doors and side exits to avoid meeting peaceful middle-aged protesters face to face.

Hong Kong, as a proudly Chinese community, has strong views on Japan's refusal to pay war reparations or give up control of the Diaoyu Islands. But its demonstrators do not hurl fire bombs, eggs or bottles of ink. By and large, those who came on to the streets yesterday and the day before were people who believed they, or their parents, had been abominably maltreated by the Japanese in the past. Their complaints deserved recognition and their suffering an acknowledgement. Running away from the crowds might be construed as an acknowledgement of sorts, but it was not one likely to be considered adequate by the public.

Yesterday's protest was rather more aggressive and disrespectful than those on the previous day, largely because of Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda's earlier failure to face the public. But the message of legislator Tsang Kin-shing's vow to go to the Diaoyu Islands to destroy a lighthouse built there by Japanese extremists was clear: Hong Kong believes the islands are Chinese and has a right to say so to whomsoever it pleases.