Right now, everyone needs to be careful around combustible material; these flames could get out of control. After an enormous march against Japan in Shanghai last Saturday, relations between Asia's two leading powers have deteriorated into their worst state for years. Japanese officials have urged Beijing to stop the demonstrations on the mainland while Japan's business communityanxious to protect an economy that is increasingly dependent upon China tradehas called for constructive dialogue. But not all of Tokyo's actions have been conciliatory. Last Wednesday, Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry began accepting Japanese companies' bids to test drill for natural gas in East China Sea waters that China claims as its own. "This is a provocation to China's rights and interests," responded Qin Gang, China's Foreign Minister. "We demand that Japan pay attention to China's concerns, or the consequences will depend upon Japan."
Beijing has been placing a lot of demands on its neighbor over the past few weeks. What started with China's opposition to Japan's bid to join an expanded United Nations Security Council (China already has a seat) subsequently ballooned into violent public attacks on Japanese diplomatic missions and businesses in several Chinese cities that continued through the weekend. In Shanghai, throngs of mostly young Chinese gathered in the vast People's Square to begin a march to the Japanese consulate across town. At first, the atmosphere was less menacing riot and more street carnival. But along the way, angry protesters broke away and vandalized Japanese restaurants with paint, rocks and bottles. By the time the demonstrators reached the consulate, tempers were fever-hot. For six hours, mobs burned Japanese flags, threw paint bombs, rocks, tomatoes and eggs at the building. Japan's Foreign Ministry lodged a formal complaint with Beijing, saying: "Whatever the reason for this violent and destructive behavior, we will not accept it."
Rationales for an outpouring of anti-Japanese rage were readily available: Japan's Education Ministry this month approved textbooks that whitewash the country's wartime atrocities, and China has long held that Japan has failed to properly atone for its past militaristic sins. Snubbing Japan's Security Council bid last week, China's Premier Wen Jiabao said: "Only a country that respects history ... [and] wins over the trust of people in Asia and the world at large can take greater responsibilities in the international community." He ignored the fact that Japan is the world's second largest economy and the second biggest contributor to the U.N.