HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s love of Japanese cuisine will help ease tensions over Tokyo’s arrest of activists who left from its harbor and landed on one of the disputed Senkaku Islands, fisheries minister Akira Gunji said Thursday at a major food fair in the city.
Gunji said the relationship between Hong Kong and Japan will flourish as long as the culinary binds between them stay strong.
“A large number of Hong Kong people have given very high ratings to Japanese cuisine, so this is the basis of the bilateral relationship between Japan and Hong Kong,” Gunji said during a visit to the former British colony.
“Up until today, it is quite clear that Hong Kong citizens have a special sense of affinity toward Japan,” he added.
He was speaking at the opening of the Japanese food pavilion featuring more than 220 exhibitors at the Hong Kong Food Expo 2012, one of the largest food shows in Asia, with Japan as the fair’s first partner country.
This year’s expo is the first to have a country partnership system, which was organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Hong Kong is the largest importer of agricultural and fishery products from Japan.
In a speech at the opening ceremony, Gunji also said: “To talk about food is to talk about peace.”
Tensions between Beijing and Tokyo have flared anew after Japan on Wednesday arrested 14 Chinese activists who set sail from Hong Kong and planted the Chinese and Hong Kong flags on one of the uninhabited islets.
The detainees included journalists from Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV who had traveled with the activists on the three-day voyage to what China calls the Diaoyu Islands.
Scores of people protested Thursday outside the Japanese Consulate in Hong Kong, demanding Japan release the detainees and give up its claim to the strategic archipelago, which is also claimed by Taiwan.
Hong Kong visitors to the food fair were happy to check out the Japanese delicacies, but most of those interviewed felt strongly that Tokyo should back off on its claim to the islets.
“Regarding the Diaoyu Islands, we definitely have to acknowledge that it is Chinese territory,” said Wong Yuk-ching, 62, who is looking to open a Japanese eatery.
Despite the anti-Japanese public sentiment, the South China Morning Post newspaper warned Hong Kong against overplaying the nationalist card.
“Activists who go to disputed islands risk sparking diplomatic or military confrontations,” the Hong Kong daily said in an editorial.
“Governments turning to or encouraging nationalism over sovereignty claims are making a mistake. There is only one way to calm waters: through dialogue.”