When it comes to China and Japan, You-Know-Who’s to blame.
Finally freed of his mortal coil in 2011 after The Boy Who Lived fulfilled a prophecy and defeated him in print and on the big screen, Lord Voldemort has risen from the grave — again — to play an unlikely cameo in the long simmering, decidedly undiplomatic spat between China and Japan. Relations between the two Asian powers, never the best of friends — indeed, one might say they are like Gryffindor and Slytherin, though there will be some argument about which is which — have been deteriorating for some time.
Tensions between the two were heightened by a dispute over the ownership of a group of islands, the Senkaku/ Diaoyu, in the East China Sea. More recently, Beijing was outraged by what it perceived as a dangerous re-emergence of Japanese militarism, symbolised by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s December visit to the Yasukuni Shrine dedicated to honouring Japan’s World War II dead, including war criminals directly responsible for the Japanese Imperial Army’s actions in China. In retaliation, Beijing’s London envoy, Liu Xiaoming, lambasted Tokyo in a January 1 op-ed in a British newspaper: “If militarism is like the haunting Voldemort of Japan, the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is a kind of horcrux, representing the darkest parts of that nation’s soul.”
But the rhetorical tit-for-tat did not assume truly childish proportions until Keiichi Hayashi’s retort to his Chinese counterpart, which essentially amounted to a diplomatic equivalent of the tactic favoured by five-year-olds to settle schoolyard fights everywhere — “No, you’re stupid”. His op-ed in the same newspaper cast Beijing in “the role of Voldemort in the region”. Reference to a hugely popular cultural product aside, it is unusual, to say the least, to see diplomats compare each other’s nations to an evil dark lord once described by his creator as a “raging psychopath”. Harry Potter himself would be confundled.