Whatever the reason for the disappearance of the Chinese flag from the disputed Diaoyu Islands after Hong Kong and Taiwanese protesters managed to land on the uninhabited group of islets yesterday, the fact is that it has been placed there. China's claim to the islands has thus been physically re-established. Protesters have realised their objective and made their point. Having done so, it must now be hoped they will feel able to leave the problem to the politicians. The greatest achievement of the activists has been to raise the issue to the forefront of consciousness in Japan. Before that, it appears to have been of little concern to any Japanese except right-wing extremists, although the Tokyo Government did little to diffuse the situation once it had arisen. Nor have government actions helped to dispel disquiet in the region about Japanese militarism. It has taken considerable political pressure to persuade Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto to cancel his planned homage at the shrine where war criminals are commemorated. His Liberal Party is preparing to make territorial claims a platform in the election which will take place in two weeks' time. From the view of its neighbours, that is an ill-considered move. If, as is said, the government in Tokyo is concerned about rising anti-Japanese feeling, it must recognise these provocative actions contribute towards that feeling. If it wishes to calm the atmosphere it must show more sensitivity to the feelings of its neighbours than it has done in the past. The authorities in Beijing and Taiwan have stressed they would prefer to handle the Diaoyu problem in a low-key way, around the conference table, without external action that might lead to an escalation of tension. Japan is a major contributor to the regional economy. It would be detrimental to China's development if the situation was allowed to escalate. Nor is there any reason for that to happen. The protesters have given a clear demonstration of feelings in the region: if the Japanese Government is wise, it will take note. Now may be the time for China to seize the initiative and press for direct talks. After the Japanese election, the Tokyo Government will be better placed to curtail its right-wingers and disassociate itself from their actions. If Japan wants to live in harmony in the region, it must show goodwill by agreeing to discussions. Failure to do so may lead to further trouble.