According to Japanese media reports, a car carrying Japan's ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa, was targeted in Beijing Monday by a man who ripped off the national flag on the car. The ambassador was not hurt in the incident. The man has not yet been identified. If he is Chinese, as is suspected, then his act was a stupid one that can only make matters more difficult.
Tensions between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands have been escalating recently. Right-wing forces in Japan have been stirring up nationalism and pressing Tokyo to take a hardline stance with China. The world at large is keeping a close eye on how the two countries will handle their issues.
Even if the man is confirmed as Chinese, it remains unclear if he suffers from some mental condition. Either way, his action is not representative of the Chinese people.
Diplomacy has not just been carried out by authorities in China. In this open globalized era, every Chinese is a participant in diplomatic affairs. The more severe the confrontations between China and Japan, the more actively the public will be involved in diplomacy with Japan. Individual actions matter greatly in whether China can gain an upper hand in public opinion in its conflict with Japan.
However, Chinese people should remain calm and civilized when expressing their patriotism. Any actions and protests must remain within the law.
Diplomats have the right to fly national flags on their vehicles. Trying to stop this only invites criticism.
We can only speculate why the man pulled the Japanese flag off the ambassador's car yesterday.
Due to the sensitive timing, public opinion will naturally associate his action to the current diplomatic tension between China and Japan and see it as reflecting China's unhappiness with its neighbor. Such a connection will sour the image of the Chinese public and the nation. Japan's right-wing forces will gain more ammunition from incidents like this.
Competition between China and Japan is akin to a game of chess. The impulse to attack diplomatic cars will be of no help.
China needs real bravery and wisdom to stave off competition with Japan, and the US that lends its support. What happened yesterday was nothing but a childish action.
China's development has made many countries uneasy. Its conflicts with external parties are bound to rise, which means the Chinese public will be more active participants in diplomacy. All of us should only wish to be positive influences in this regard.