Why are China and Japan accusing each other of being Voldemort? (+video)
Tension between the Asian powerhouses grew in 2013. Now, Chinese and Japanese diplomats are comparing each other's country to the Harry Potter villain.
Seoul, South Korea
â€śYouâ€™re evil.â€ťÂ â€śNo, youâ€™re evil."
The battleground, somewhat surprisingly, is Britain and the op-edÂ section of the conservative broadsheet, the Daily Telegraph.
In an ill-tempered exchange between the Chinese and JapaneseÂ ambassadors to London, both invoked another British institution â€“Â Harry Potter â€“ to embellish attacks on the other countryâ€™sÂ contribution to tensions in the Asia-Pacific, not least over ownershipÂ of a small cluster of islands in the East China Sea.
For Chinaâ€™s envoy, Lui Xiaoming, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abeâ€™sÂ year-end visit to Yasukuni Shrine â€“ where Japanâ€™s war dead are honoredÂ â€“ was evidence that dark forces were at play at the heart of theÂ administration in Tokyo.
â€śIn the Harry Potter story, the dark wizard Voldemort dies hardÂ because the seven horcruxes, which contain parts of his soul, haveÂ been destroyed,â€ť he wrote. Â â€śIf militarism is like the hauntingÂ Voldemort of Japan, the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is a kind of horcrux,Â representing the darkest parts of that nationâ€™s soul.â€ť
Mr. Liu went on to accuse Abe of putting Japan back on the path ofÂ prewar-style militarism, citing his plans to raise military spending,Â his eagerness to reform the postwar pacifist Constitution, and hisÂ apparent lack of remorse for his country's wartime conduct.
It took Japan just a few days to respond in kind, again in the pagesÂ of the Daily Telegraph. "East Asia is now at a crossroads," Japanâ€™sÂ envoy to London, Keiichi Hayashi, wrote. "There are two paths open toÂ China. One is to seek dialogue, and abide by the rule of law. TheÂ other is to play the role of Voldemort in the region by letting looseÂ the evil of an arms race and escalation of tensions, although JapanÂ will not escalate the situation from its side.â€ť
The vituperative commentaries putÂ growing tension between China and Japan on full display. Over the past year, Japan decried China's unilateral declaration of an air defense identification zone while China bristled at Japan's new military plans.Â
While it's not normal for diplomats to engage in Harry Potter references, the choice of metaphor shouldnâ€™t come as a surprise.
The Harry Potter genre is hugely popular in China, where demandÂ reportedly sparked a lucrative market in bootleg versions. In 2007,Â movie executives rewarded Potter-mad Japan for its ability to generateÂ sales by choosing Tokyo for the world premiere of "Harry Potter and theÂ Order of the Phoenix."
For the regionâ€™s sake, one can only hope that representatives of theÂ countriesâ€™ diplomatic corps rediscover their sense of Muggle propriety,Â so that their next exchange will be more temperate.
After all, the author of the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, onceÂ described Voldemort as a â€śraging psychopath, devoid of the normalÂ human responses to other peopleâ€™s suffering." As other commentators haveÂ pointed out, for two men schooled in the art of diplomacy to invokeÂ such dark imagery about a neighbor â€“ and an important tradingÂ partner, to boot â€“ is unseemly at best.
The Liu-Hayashi bout makes it hard to imagine that 2014 will bringÂ China and Japan any closer. AÂ summit between their leaders is a similarly distant prospect: asÂ things stand, a score-settling game of Quidditch would be lessÂ fanciful.