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Monday, March 24, 2008

JAPANESE PERSPECTIVES

Chinese frozen foodand frigid bilateral relations


Bilateral relations can be complicated by conflicting interests, which makes occasional problems inevitable. What's important, however, is whether the two countries can communicate frankly about the problems, find their causes and resolve them. This is one reason wh countries set up hot lines between the top leaders.

As the ongoing bickering over China's tainted frozen dumplings shows, Japanese and Chinese authorities are unable to make progress in definitively determining whether the insecticide the products were tainted with, methamidophos, can seep through their sealed plastic packages. This, regrettably, shows that Japan and China still lack a mechanism for effectively tackling such a problem, and this author sees problems with the responses from both sides.

Right after the food poisonings came to light, Beijing pledged that the two sides would jointly probe the case, but no such investigation has taken place in substantial form. Even though the results of the Japanese and Chinese tests conflict, China's Public Security Ministry quickly denied the dumplings were contaminated in China and said the Chinese producer was not at fault.

Furthermore, at a Feb. 28 news conference, the Chinese investigators said their probe had cleared all 55 workers involved in producing, packaging and storing the products of lacing them with the insecticide. They also said their tests, carried out under various conditions, showed that when methamidophos is pasted on the outside of a package, it can seep inside. But this is a one-sided account, the result of a unilateral Chinese investigation carried out in the absence of Japanese authorities. When Japan requested detailed data on about 20 items related to China's tests, China responded by providing only partial information.

Japan, for its part, has failed to rebut the results of the Chinese probe at the points where they differ.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said earlier that Japan should avoid making statements on issues that could anger other countries, such as Yasukuni Shrine. But it is the government's duty to the people to make strong counterarguments on issues that concern the protection of national interests.

Before visiting China, opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, said he would say what needs to be said to China's leaders. But when he actually went there, he didn't say any of those things — he merely acted as if he were happy to be there.

None of the newspaper reports show Ozawa made any remarks in Beijing that were aimed at protecting our national interests.

The food poisonings — which literally put people's lives at risk — have severely damaged public trust in Chinese food. But the people's doubts about China go beyond its food and extend to its behavior on other issues, including Tibet. Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit Japan in coming months, but any attempts to smooth over these problems with fancy words touting bilateral ties will not clean the slate so easily.

Before Japan and China normalized diplomatic ties in the 1970s, this author took part in forming a yen-yuan settlement system devised in accordance with the wishes of then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai to expand Japanese-Chinese trade without using U.S. dollars. That was before U.S. President Richard Nixon's visit to China, when China needed to avoid using the U.S. dollar after its dollar reserve account was blocked when it intervened in the Korean War.

At that time, Japan and China shared an atmosphere in which they could frankly exchange views to achieve their mutual goals. With modern China emerging as an economic powerhouse with more than $1 trillion in foreign currency reserves, what would the late Premier Zhou say about today's oft-troubled bilateral relations?

Teruhiko Mano is a professor at Seigakuin University Graduate School.


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