Geopolitics

The China-Japan Relationship: A Tale Of Manners And Diplomacy

Essay: A Beijing-based Japanese writer looks at history, diplomacy and body language to try to explain the chilly reception new Japanese Prime Minister Noda has received from China's Hu Jintao. What could it mean for a region at the center of shi

Yoshihiko Noda and Hu Jintao during the APEC meeting.
Yoshihiko Noda and Hu Jintao during the APEC meeting.
Daisuke Kondo

BEIJING -- On Nov. 3, in Cannes, France, the G20 leaders were assembling for dinner. The Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, walked up to Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, and shook his hand warmly. "I'm Japan's new Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda. I had the honor to meet you 27 years ago when I visited China as a member of the Japan-China Youth Friendship Delegation…"

The Chinese leader was slightly surprised, and answered "We'll talk a bit more when we meet up again next week in Hawaii…" But Mr. Noda continued, thanking President Hu for the assistance China had offered in March after Japan's earthquake. Including the time needed for the interpreters, the conversation lasted just three minutes.

Nine days later in Hawaii, the two leaders met up again at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and had their first official summit meeting. It lasted 30 minutes. At the start of the talks, Mr. Noda again mentioned the 1984 meeting. It was 12 years after Japan and China had normalized their relations. A youth delegation from Japan was invited by the then Chinese President Hu Yaobang. And Hu Jintao, as the head of the reception at that time, was very impressed with this visit. Throughout his subsequent career, he has mentioned this experience whenever he meets Japanese officials -- which is probably why Noda went out of his way to mention it.

But Hu did not seem to share his enthusiasm about their meeting, keeping the somber expression fixed on his face. Nor did he respond in kind when Noda described his wish that the East China Sea become a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.

From my observation of Hu Jintao through CCTV's news broadcasts, he has but three expressions: happily smiling, alertly somber, or sad. The sad expression is reserved for the rare occasions like when he offered his condolences to the Japanese Embassy after the earthquake in March. For all other times, he chooses one of the other two – the smiling one for the "comrade", and the somber one for the "non-comrade".

As a Japanese person living in Beijing, I find that Japanese and Chinese people have totally different approaches in how to manage interpersonal relationships. To put it simply, the Japanese are more "vague" whereas the Chinese tend to draw a clear line between the "white" and the "black", the "good" and the "bad." For the Japanese, since "even friends can be like strangers," it follows that "neither stranger nor friend" is also the way of dealing with people.

In contrast, Chinese people draw clear boundaries. Either you are a friend and are to be treated very well, or you are a total stranger (or enemy), and contact is kept to a minimum. Such thinking and attitude is also reflected in the way China treats Japan.

Pawns and preferences

Take Japan's politicians as specific examples. Junichiro Koizumi, Japan's former Prime Minister was definitely a "black" figure, simply because he visited the Yasukuni Shrine, a Tokyo shrine dedicated to all Japanese who have died in wars for the Emperor. The shrine is controversial because among the people honored there are convicted war criminals from World War II, including those who committed atrocities in China.

In contrast, Yasuo Fukuda, the son of another Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, is considered "white" for the reason that his father was the person who promoted and signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China in 1978.

As for the current Prime Minister, Noda, since China believes he acts like a "pawn" for President Obama's China policy, which includes an increased US military presence in Asia, naturally he is put on the black list.

For someone like me, who used to work as a political correspondent in Japan and has long observed Japanese foreign policy towards China, it remains hard to understand China's stance.

Junichiro Koizumi may have visited the Yasukuni Shrine, but during his five and a half years in office as the Prime Minister, he didn't advocate a single anti-China policy. And he was very actively involved in the Boao Forum for Asia – the so-called Davos of Asia, organized by the Chinese government.

Even the current Prime Minister Nado is in no way an "anti-China" figure. He is a particularly careful and wise politician. He has a rule to follow Foreign Ministry recommendations at all times, to avoid friction within Japan. Beijing might feel threatened by the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) promoted by President Obama, but China is overreacting.

The TPP is designed to limit China's influence in the region, and Japan's decision to participate is a major coup for the US. It was one of the major themes that Nado and Obama discussed at APEC, but it was not the only thing that differed from Nado's meeting with Hu.

After the opening words, Prime Minister Noda told the American president about the Japanese government's decision to participate in TPP negotiations. Two leaders mutually complimented the other country's foresight. President Obama welcomed Japan to join the TPP, and, unlike China's leader, he was all smiles.

America used APEC as chance to pronounce that it was once again "master of Asia-Pacific". The US might have had sharp words at the summit, but it reminds me of a Japanese proverb: "A good dog does not bark, but a barking dog is not necessarily a fierce one."

China should remain calm. It can easily tell the world that the TPP is a non-event. After all, China is the biggest economic entity in East Asia, so without its participation, what use is a free trade zone?

China should also not feel threatened by Japan. The reason why Mr. Noda is clinging closely to the U.S. is because he has no confidence in an independent Japanese diplomacy. President Hu should face Mr. Noda with a smile of mercy; just like China's appeasing and charitable attitude towards North Korea.

When the young Hu Jintao received the group of 3000 Japanese youth delegates in 1984, Japan was a full-grown adult, both economically and in international status, while China was still pubescent. But 27 years later, that young child has grown into strong adult, while Japan has been reduced to an old man.

All China needs to do when dealing with Japan today is to apply traditional Confucianism – respect for the elderly.

Kondo, a former Japanese magazine editor, writes the E.O."s "View from Japan" column, and is the Vice General Manager of Kodansha Culture Co. in Beijing.

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - Chinese Embassy

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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