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.
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"We are constantly reminded of wartime sufferings at the hands of Japanese invaders," wrote Raymond Zhou, a political commentator, in the state-run China Daily newspaper. TV dramas that flood the airwaves and graphic anti-Japan school textbooks keep the old wounds open.Skip to next paragraph
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The widely felt hostility to Japan was further stoked by state media's handling of Tokyo's detention last September of a Chinese fishing crew near a disputed group of islands in the East China Sea.
After the disaster, though, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the Japanese Embassy here to express his condolences and Premier Wen Jiabao also offered his sympathy. China sent the first rescue team to Japan's northeast coast, along with emergency supplies and fuel, and ordinary citizens donated millions of dollars.
The official Chinese media reported on the crisis with unusual empathy. Many papers devoted extensive space to the story of a Japanese fisheries executive who led 20 young Chinese trainees to safety after the earthquake before dying in the tsunami as he sought his wife and child.
This sort of coverage offered new perspectives for most Chinese readers on Japanese dignity, orderliness, and determination in the face of adversity. They resonated with special force in the light of the earthquake that struck Sichuan in southwest China in 2008, leaving 87,000 dead or missing.
"Even hatreds, complaints, and conflicts pale into insignificance in the face of huge human disaster," wrote an editorialist in the China Youth Daily, published by the ruling Communist Party. "History cannot be forgotten, but it might be forgiven."
What it means
All this "provides a good foundation for a better direction in Chinese-Japanese relations," says Professor Zhou. But political realities have not gone away, he points out: Tokyo and Beijing are still at loggerheads over sovereignty disputes in the East China Sea concerning islands and an oil and gas field.
The Japanese government blasted China on Monday for sending a helicopter to buzz a Japanese military vessel near the oil field, where a Chinese company says it has already started pumping in the absence of any agreement with Japan over exploitation.
"It is extremely deplorable that the approach was perpetrated in a period like this," Japan's state secretary for foreign affairs, Yutaka Banno, told reporters in Tokyo.
Japanese press coverage of the incident was one-sided, complains Zhou. "If China's positive attitude and help is not reciprocated, future relations are uncertain," he warns. "Maybe there will be less focus on history from now on, but it will not completely disappear."