US crisis short list: Asia next?

This capital and the American public in general seem to have time and energy for only one troubled region at a time. For several years, that region has been the Middle East - the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Comparatively little attention has been focused on Asia, which has recently produced some news - strikingly good news and strikingly bad news.

The good news is the remarkable accommodation between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers that have long fought each other or glared at each other across disputed Kashmir. They have recently revived bus links and will soon start rail service across Kashmir. And symbolically important, for only the second time ever, a Pakistani president has attended an India-Pakistan cricket match in India.

The bad news comes from Japan and China, whose relations have sunk to the lowest point in decades. They are locked in a variety of disputes ranging from China's threatened veto of permanent Japanese membership in the UN Security Council to a quarrel over Japanese textbooks that, according to the Chinese, minimize Japanese military atrocities against the Chinese during World War II.

Beijing's anger has been expressed in demonstrations outside the Japanese Embassy in the capital and consulates in several other cities. In some of them, young people have shouted "Kill the Japanese!" Mostly, the police stood by, until a riot in Shanghai Sunday threatened to spin out of control. Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura made a quick trip to Beijing last weekend to protest and demand compensation for damaged property. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told him that Japan has hurt the feelings of the Chinese, and he saw nothing to apologize for. Mr. Machimura warned that relations between the two countries could decline to a serious state.

The Chinese government has now called for a halt to violent demonstrations, apparently fearing they will spin out of control.

This is one dispute that the United States has so far managed to stay out of, but that may not last. One element in the confrontation has to do with Chinese charges that Japan is backing the American position on the defense of Taiwan in the event of a Chinese move to annex the island.

The prospects for Japan and China patching up their differences do not look very bright at the moment, and America may soon have another crisis to attend to.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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