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China's sympathetic response to Japan's crisis eases tensions

Japan's quake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis have eased China-Japan tensions heartens many, but flash points remain.

By / Staff Writer / April 4, 2011

Workers handled relief packages sent by China’s government at Narita airport in Tokyo on March 28.

Ji Chunpeng/Xinhua/Sipa Press/Newscom

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Beijing

Behind the often raucous chatter on the Chinese Internet, a steady drumbeat of anti-Japanese sentiment has long provided insight into one of the strongest currents of local public opinion.

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Now, that has changed. In the wake of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear emergency that struck Japan on March 11, the public mood here has shifted dramatically. If that lasts, say some observers, it could boost chances for a deeper rapprochement between the traditional rivals.

"The tone online has changed from cursing the Japanese people and government to expressing sympathy and support," says Zhou Yongsheng, a Japan expert at the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. "I am really surprised."

The change was not immediate. Initial reactions reflected the standard, sometimes brutal, views that Chinese commonly express toward Japan.

"I hope this happens to you on the same day every year," wrote one anonymous commentator on Mop.com, which hosts one of China's most popular chat rooms. "This is a great birthday present," wrote another.

Humane response to an old foe

Soon, however, such posts were vastly outnumbered by more humane reactions. "I have to say that I admire the Japanese people's quality and spirit," wrote a netizen in Shanghai who calls himself Jiaoyueyouyou on another leading portal, Sina.com.

Sina.com has received more than 2,788,000 clicks recently on an icon on its site reading "Pray for the Japanese in the disaster zone."

That seemed more representative of ordinary Chinese citizens. In an online poll by Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, 73 percent of 1.8 million responses were positive. Some said they were surprised by the Japanese people's disciplined response to the disaster. Others admired the relatively low casualty rate or the Japanese government's quick response.

Those in favor of sending aid outnumbered those opposing it by more than 2 to 1.

Four days before the earthquake, a different story

This was in striking contrast to the opinions culled by World Public Opinion, a Washington-based international polling agency, in a survey released four days before the earthquake and tsunami. That poll found 71 percent of Chinese holding negative views of Japan.

Reasons for that are not hard to find. Resentment at Japan's brutal occupation of China between 1931 and 1945, and the war that claimed 20 million lives, still boils in many Chinese hearts. The sentiment is further embittered by a sense that Tokyo has never fully apologized for its atrocities.

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