The island clash between Japan and China, as well as other island disputes in East Asia, could be more easily resolved if neighbors shared a common view of history.
Thousands of Chinese rose up in protest against Japan on Sunday, hitting out at Japanese cars and businesses. It was the third such protest in seven years following clashes at sea over each country’s claim to a group of small islands.
The violent outburst of nationalism in China – echoed more quietly and peacefully among Japanese – came just days after South Korea provoked outrage in Japan over a visit by its president to disputed islands in the Sea of Japan.
To some degree, these clashes in East Asia are driven by each nation’s desire to tap the rights to seabed oil and fisheries around the islands or by weak leaders seeking to boost their standing by using patriotic anger.
But underlying the fervor over the territorial disputes are deep emotions tied to the region’s history – especially over how each country interprets that history.
Quarrels over the record of past aggression by China against Vietnam, for example, have colored how the two neighbors regard their clashes over the Paracel Islands. But it is the raw feelings over Japan’s early-20th-century aggression in Asia that creates the most worry that the string of clashes over the Senkaku Islands (known as Diaoyu Islands in China) might result in serious military confrontation.