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Japan says food diplomacy will keep Hong Kong sweet
by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) Aug 16, 2012

Hong Kong's love of Japanese cuisine will help ease tensions over Tokyo's arrest of Hong Kong activists at a disputed island chain, a Japanese minister said Thursday at a food fair in the Chinese city.

Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Akira Gunji said the relationship between the southern Chinese city and Japan would flourish as long as the culinary binds between them stayed 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 towards Japan."

He was speaking at the opening of the Japanese food pavilion featuring more than 220 exhibitors at the Hong Kong Food Expo 2012.

Tensions between Beijing and Tokyo have flared anew after Japan on Wednesday arrested 14 pro-China activists who set sail from Hong Kong and planted the Chinese and Hong Kong flags on a disputed island.

The detainees included journalists from Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV who had travelled with the activists on the three-day voyage to the Diaoyu Islands, as they are known in Chinese.

Scores of people protested Thursday at 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 by AFP felt strongly that Tokyo should back off its claim to the islands.

"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 restaurant.

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."

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