“So which of the two countries do the islands really belong to?” entrepreneur Song Wenzhou was asked recently by his 10-year-old son amid the rising tensions between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands.
In mid-September, his family watched as throngs of Chinese demonstrators marched past their home in Beijing toward the Japanese Embassy next door.
The China-born Song, 49, has spent many years doing business in Japan and is deeply troubled by the strained ties. His wife is Japanese and their two children also hold Japanese nationality.
“I am not on either side. I just wish (Japan and China) would stop fighting each other,” he said. “People like myself who do business between Japan and China are the ones suffering the most.”
Song first arrived in Japan in 1985 as an exchange student and studied at Hokkaido University’s graduate school. He later founded Softbrain Co., a software development company that was listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2005.
He frequently travels between the two countries, serving as a consultant for Japanese firms that plan to enter the Chinese market. Song has also authored more than 10 books on such subjects as the differences in values and business practices between Japan and China, and sometimes appears on television as a commentator.
In response to his son’s question, Song said he replied that “a long time ago, they were nobody’s land. But China says they are its own, while Japan also says they are its own. That’s why all this is happening.”
His son did not press further.
In Beijing, the windows in a Japanese vehicle used by staff members of Song’s company were smashed by demonstrators. Chinese authorities have tightened controls on work visas. Imports and exports of goods have also begun to stall.
He gets endless calls from acquaintances and business partners, asking him for advice on whether to go ahead with planned investments or quit.
With no clear answer to the situation, all he can do is advise them to wait until the flareup subsides, Song said.
People he knew were among the protesters, but Song said they were not the sort who go about preaching anti-Japanese claims.
“‘I’m sure most Chinese people did not know about the islands from the beginning,” he said. “Japan’s nationalization of the islands unfortunately inflamed (the anger in) the hearts of the Chinese people who hadn’t even known about the existence of the territorial issue.”
He is worried that the negative impact has not yet reached its peak, though he said that moment may be near.
“I hope (the Japanese government) will send politicians who are well-connected in China to go to the country and try to mend bilateral ties as soon as possible,” Song said. “For the territorial issue, I think there is no other choice but to shelve it.”