The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research


The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research

An Eight-Point Proposal for Japan-China Relations

September 30, 2008

A study team of young working-level people on the front lines in the relationship between Japan and China has prepared a set of recommendations for the bilateral relationship after the Beijing Olympics. Based on these, the Tokyo Foundation has compiled this policy proposal.

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Japan's relations with China have been shaken recently by the problem of pesticide-tainted Chinese dumplings imported into Japan and by the unrest in Tibet. We believe, however, that in order to keep the relationship on an even keel and create a situation advantageous for Japan, it is important to strengthen the ties of interdependence through step-by-step cooperation in specific areas where both sides can benefit.

In line with this basic understanding, the Tokyo Foundation assembled a study team of young working-level people directly involved in Japan-China relations to consider the bilateral relationship with a view to the period beyond the upcoming Beijing Olympics. The members of our study team reviewed the course of developments from the past through the present and identified the current problems and future issues in each of the specific areas from their invaluable perspectives on the front lines, and they strove to offer concrete ideas on how to deal with these matters.

The recommendations the team members came up with covered not just the general topics of political and economic ties but also specific areas of special concern to consumers, businesspeople, and others, such as food and agriculture, resources and energy, the environment, intellectual property, cultural exchange, and regional cooperation.

We have selected eight of the points raised by the study team members as the basis for this policy proposal, and here at the Tokyo Foundation we intend to follow up on these points.

The number eight is considered auspicious in both China and Japan. This summer's Beijing Olympics are scheduled to open on August 8, 2008 (8/8/08) at 8:08 PM. The Chinese character with which this number is written consists of two strokes going from a narrow top to a broad base. This is taken to represent "widening." We have selected eight points as the core of this set of recommendations in the hope that they will contribute to the development of a "widening" bilateral relationship for generations to come.

President Hu Jintao's recent visit to Japan has drawn renewed attention to relations between Japan and China. It is our fervent hope that these concrete policy proposals will assist in the building of a new bilateral relationship.

Outline of the proposal

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People's Republic of China in 1978. Over this 30-year period China has achieved amazing development, and one symbol of this success is the holding of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing this August. Meanwhile the relationship between Japan and China has also changed greatly, developing from a government-led relationship of friendship into a private-sector-led relationship of interdependence, and it is now on the verge of a new stage.

The private-sector-led relationship of interdependence is basically very stable even in the face of ups and downs in the superficial "friendship" at the government level. At the same time, however, there do exist deep-seated differences over such issues as historical perceptions, Taiwan, and development of gas fields in the East China Sea-matters that do not lend themselves to quick settlement. And looking at the future prospects for the bilateral relationship as Japan struggles to stay ahead and China strives to catch up, we cannot deny the possibility that it will enter a period of unsteadiness in which it will become easier for futile confrontations to occur.

In the face of this prospect of a period of unsteadiness in relations with China, Japan should not seek simply to promote bilateral friendship, nor should it be antagonistic and confrontational. In order to keep the relationship on an even keel, it is important to strengthen the ties of interdependence through step-by-step cooperation in specific areas where both sides can benefit.

Eight recommendations

1. Hold "Japan-China Working-Level Exchange Platform" meetings.

We recommend that a "Japan-China Working-Level Exchange Platform" symposium be held once a year or so as a forum for periodical interaction and exchange of opinions between young working-level people and specialists on such topics as food and agriculture, resources and energy, the environment, intellectual property, cultural exchange, and regional cooperation.

2. Launch a training program for young working-level people.

In recent years many businesses and government agencies have been sending employees to study in China with the aim of studying Chinese, deepening their understanding of China, and building personal networks. In many cases, however, such employees merely attend Chinese language courses for foreigners, and even after a year there they often do not have a single Chinese friend. We therefore recommend the creation of a "Program on China-Japan Relations" at a university in China, similar to the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at Harvard University, to serve as a center for the development and training of Japanese "China hands."

3. Implement a food safety campaign in China

People in Japan are concerned about the safety of food products imported from China. Instead of merely striving to exclude unsafe food through rigorous customs procedures, we recommend achieving a fundamental solution to the problem and benefiting consumers in both Japan and China by implementing a campaign to raise awareness of food safety issues within China.

4. Establish a "Pollution Control Foundation."

We recommend encouraging the Chinese government to establish a special public funding agency to provide a steady supply of long-term, low-interest funding for investment in environmental protection, an area in which there is a shortage of funds in China; we recommend that Japan extend cooperation in such forms as the provision of core funding and the dispatch of specialists.

5. Draw up a bilateral medium- to long-term plan for protection of intellectual property.

Japanese businesses are suffering great damage from imitation goods and pirated products made in China. In order to counter this problem effectively we need to go beyond just asking the Chinese government to improve the situation; what is needed is bilateral cooperation for well-balanced, comprehensive implementation of improvements in China's legal system and efforts to enhance that country's ability to crack down on violations. For this purpose we recommend that Japan and China jointly formulate a medium- to long-term plan for protection of intellectual property and that they agree on and confirm specific measures, including the implementation of activities to raise the awareness of the Chinese public regarding this issue, appropriate law enforcement in the provinces, and academic exchanges in the field of intellectual property law; progress in implementation should be checked through appropriate public-sector and private-sector channels on an annual basis.

6. Provide free DVDs introducing Japan to Chinese students.

The number of Chinese who can visit Japan is limited by both economic and institutional factors, and within China there is a lack of materials introducing the "real" Japan. In order to give as many Chinese people as possible, particularly young students, the opportunity to learn about Japan, we recommend distributing DVDs introducing Japan to Chinese universities. These could cover such areas as Japanese history, culture (television dramas, films, literature, traditional arts), daily life, politics, the economy, information technology, and learning materials for future interpreters.

7. Establish an "Asian coal chain."

China is self-sufficient in coal, but its use of low-quality domestic coal is inefficient and harmful to the environment, and it fails to meet China's own policy of improving energy efficiency. We recommend the establishment of a business model that will serve the commercial, environmental, and energy-policy interests of both Japan and China by taking high-quality coal from Japanese-operated mines in countries like Australia and Indonesia, which have extra supply capacity, and transporting it to the coastal regions of China in bulk carriers owned by Japanese shipping companies for use in efficient, environment-friendly Japanese plants there.

8. Cooperate in development of the Mekong region.

Japan and China are currently competing with each other for influence in the Mekong region (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam), which is geostrategically important for East Asian integration. This competition does not serve the interests of Japan, China, or the countries of the region. We recommend that Japan and China coordinate their policies concerning development of this region and related issues and that they work together in promoting the region's steady development.

Members of the study team

Takashi Sekiyama, research fellow, Tokyo Foundation
Hiroko Maeda, associate research fellow, PHP Research Institute, Inc.
Gota Nishimura, editor, The Weekly Toyo Keizai , Toyo Keizai Inc.
Yoshihisa Fukuda, managing director, i-Agri Corp.
Tsuyoshi Terada, Electric Power Development Co., Ltd. (J-Power)
Kenji Someno, Ministry of the Environment
Yusuke Wakebe, lawyer, currently working in the Office of Intellectual Property Rights Protection, Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry
Yoshikazu Kato, adviser, Association of Japanese Students, Peking University
Masayasu Murakami, executive director, Japan Forum on International Relations, Inc.


The contents of this proposal document have been drafted by the Tokyo Foundation on the basis of the personal views of the members of the study team. They do not reflect the views of the institutions or groups with which the members are affiliated.

    • Research Fellow, Tokyo Foundation Associate Professor, Center for Global Education and Exchange, Toyo University
    • Takashi Sekiyama
    • Takashi Sekiyama

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