By R N Das
At times succour in adversity can open up fresh avenues to normalise strained relations between two countries locked in distrust and enmity. This seems to be happening between China and Japan in the wake of disaster that befell Japan recently.
Six months ago, the arrest by the Japanese coast guard of the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel, had created a fresh bout of tension between the two countries. In an exercise in ‘coercive diplomacy’, China threatened to stop supplies of rare earths, key ingredients in the manufacture of computer chips, to Japan if the Chinese national was not freed. In yet another incident, that was not widely publicised, on March 8, 2011, just before the earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan, a dispute broke out between the two countries on exploration rights over Chunxia, an oil and gas field in the East China Sea.
The relationship between China and Japan took a positive turn, however, in the wake of the devastating earthquake and the accompanying tsunami that hit Eastern Japan. China acted swiftly to come to the rescue of Japan in a spirit of solidarity. Moreover, the Chinese Government also appealed to the international community to help Japan prevent the nuclear crisis from worsening. Beijing sent a 15-member international rescue team to Japan and provided 30 million Yuan worth of emergency humanitarian assistance. China has already delivered the first relief package consisting of 2,000 blankets, 900 cotton tents and 200 emergency lights. It has also pledged 20,000 tonnes of fuel, 10,000 tonnes of gasoline and 10,000 tonnes of diesel. In the latest round of relief, China moreover delivered ten tonnes of bottled drinking water to the earthquake-hit areas. At Tsinghua University, students set up two donation boxes, one for Yunan where 25 people died recently in an earthquake and the other for Japan’s quake and tsunami victims. All these are examples of how empathy brings people together.
The catastrophe in Japan has brought about a change in the attitude of the people of China towards their Japanese counterparts. According to polls conducted in 2010 by the Japanese newspaper Yamiuri Shimbun and the Chinese news agency Xinhua, 81 per cent of those polled in China said ties with Japan were bad and 79 per cent said that Japan cannot be trusted. But this attitude changed for the better after Japan’s tragedy. In a recent survey conducted by the news portal ifeng.com, nearly 80 per cent of Chinese respondents said that they support their government’s efforts to aid Japan despite friction between the two neighbours. Out of 1.5 million respondents, the survey showed that 1.2 million backed the government’s humanitarian aid to Japan and agreed that China should offer help despite historical and existing disputes. One citizen commented on the website that “human beings are without borders when facing natural disasters.”[fn]China Daily, March 18, 2011.[/fn]
Sounding a note of empathy, an opinion piece in China Daily entitled, “Facing Disasters, We are All Human,” stated, “the tsunami in Japan is yet another, albeit different, test put before us. Bearing our recent history in mind, we often view each other with ambivalent attitudes, to say the least. But the candles lit, the vigils held and the tears shed for the ordinary lives have told a totally different, yet not unexpected, story, which is particularly comforting.”[fn]China Daily, March 16, 2011.[/fn]
Taking the new-found warmth further, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, while participating at the fifth trilateral meeting of foreign ministers of Japan, China and South Korea held in Kyoto on March 19, 2011, said that China will extend maximum support to cooperate with Japan in the relief operations and construction work, and expressed the hope that Japan will overcome the nuclear crisis as soon as possible. In his condolence message, Yang Jiechi noted that the Chinese people were deeply affected by the earthquake since China had experienced a devastating earthquake in Sichuan province three years earlier. Incidentally, it may be mentioned that many Chinese nationals living in Japan also took part in the relief work in Japan. In a bizarre incident, a Japanese official who helped 20 Chinese students escape from the Tsunami himself fell prey to the surging waves while attempting to save his wife and daughter.
Will kindred human spirit and neighbourly gestures have a lasting effect on the strained bilateral relations between China and Japan?
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/JapansDisasterBringsSinoJapaneseRelationsCloser_rndas_220311