A car flag and a hand-carried letter are the latest complexities of the increasingly bitter quarrel between Japan and China.

How they factor into the dispute over a cluster of barren islands goes something like this:

It was nearing the afternoon rush hour along a busy road in Beijing. The car of the Japanese ambassador was returning to the embassy when it was blocked by two vehicles.  An ‘unknown man’ then jumped from one of them and ripped the flag from the ambassador’s car.  The man disappeared just as swiftly, the flag missing and the only physical damage wasa bent flagpole.

The diplomatic fallout, however, is another matter. Tokyo was incensed by the ‘attack’.  Beijing apologized.  Tokyo demanded an inquiry.  Beijing agreed the police would investigate.  Tokyo then drafted a letter to Chinese president Hu Jintao that was entrusted to a senior envoy to deliver personally.  Officials will not reveal the specifics of what it says.

"This is very regrettable - the national flag shows a country's dignity,” said a spokesperson for Japan’s government, “it is a principle of international law that you must respect it."

The dispute over the islands – known as the Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan – has not abated since Chinese activists made a landing there this month that Japan deemed illegal. Japan’s Coast Guard has now posted video of its attempt to stop the protest ship.  It has been edited (to about 7 minutes) and features water cannons and ‘concrete blocks.’

Anti-Japan protests in Chinese cities have drawn thousands to the streets and some activists are calling for product boycotts.  China has not publicly criticized the shows of nationalism though it does not want to encourage protest either ahead of its power transition this fall.

Japan’s government blocked a request by Tokyo officials to visit the islands week.  That might have helped defuse the tension.  However, the Central government then said it planned to buy the islands from their private Japanese ownership to “settle” the issue of sovereignty.

Other worthy reads today:

Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi is visiting Beijing this week, among his first international trips since taking office.  Chinese state media describe it as a “realignment” of Egypt’s foreign policy to forge closer ties to China (ie. away from the US).   The official narrative of Morsi’s visit is interesting given China’s wariness of the “Arab Spring” that brought him to power.  

Two Tibetan teenagers have reportedly died in self-immolations, according to a London-based rights group.  It says that 51 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest since 2009.  More here: 

A deadly bridge collapse and a popular Chinese blogger are stirring online discussion about the dangers of China’s infrastructure boom.  Here is the English translation of what Li Chengpeng describes as “the national condition.”  

Criticism continues to mount against India’s government and its censorship of certain Internet sites and social media networks as remedy for the country's “public safety.” 

In Burma/Myanmar, the government has removed some 2000 names from its list of “enemies of the state.”  Still, more than 4000 reportedly remain.

And a sign of how desperate some Chinese parents are to give their kids a competitive edge?  They forked out more than$15,000 for a course that claimed to teach ESP skills.  Shockingly, the parents later sensed it might be a fraud.