Japan and China have always had an antagonistic relationship—and after several failed invasions and a pair of Sino-Japanese wars, this can only be expected. But relations between the two countries have reached a new low, now that each has compared the other to Lord Voldemort, megalomaniacal dark wizard and the primary antagonist of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter book series.
The war of words began after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine, built to honor those who have died in service to Japan. As of 1978, the honored dead include several Japanese soldiers who were convicted of war crimes committed against Chinese citizens during World War II, a fact that has caused tension between the two nations before. And now Liu Xiaoming, China's ambassador to the UK, has put that tension into literary terms, criticizing the visit while also giving a big hint as to how he passes the time on those long flights between London and Beijing:
In the Harry Potter story, the dark wizard Voldemort dies hard because the seven horcruxes, which contain parts of his soul, have been destroyed. If militarism is like the haunting Voldemort of Japan, the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is a kind of horcrux, representing the darkest parts of that nation’s soul.
Japan's ambassador to Great Britain, Keiichi Hayashi, quickly responded in kind, although with a slightly less nuanced knowledge of Potter particulars:
East Asia is now at a crossroads. There are two paths open to China. One is to seek dialogue, and abide by the rule of law. The other is to play the role of Voldemort in the region by letting loose the evil of an arms race and escalation of tensions, although Japan will not escalate the situation from its side.
The ambassadors' inboxes were no doubt promptly flooded with letters from Harry Potter fans advising them on the finer points of Potter mythology—and maybe even a few from concerned citizens about the ongoing conflicts between their countries.