70 years after WWII: Regional diplomacy

70 years after WWII: Regional diplomacy

"Inviting Mr. Amano to give a lecture in Beijing is one good idea," a senior official of China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) told a visiting official from the Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry in Beijing last October.

The NDRC official's proposal was advanced immediately after three Japanese scientists, including Prof. Hiroshi Amano of Nagoya University, were selected as the recipients of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The three were honoured for their development of blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs), a feat that has contributed to energy-saving efforts.

The proposal came as the Japan-China Forum on Energy Saving and Environmental Protection had been suspended since 2013 due to deteriorating relations between the two countries.

The Chinese official apparently hoped to resume the bilateral forum, billing Amano's lecture as a special feature at the event.

The NDRC is a government organ tasked with formulating macroeconomic policies.

China, a major blue LED manufacturer, has been slow to address a host of energy resource and environmental problems facing the country, including air pollution caused by microparticulate matter known as PM2.5.

It has been aiming to revive cooperative ties with Japan, a nation that possesses cutting-edge technology vital to energy conservation efforts. Doing so would help China, which appears to be in the midst of a slowdown, sustain its economic growth.

The NDRC official's proposal preceded a Japan-China summit meeting that took place in November after a long hiatus. This showed that, even prior to the top-level talks, the Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping had been searching for ways to promote what is called "the separation of political and economic affairs."

In other words, Beijing wanted to ensure that bilateral antagonism in the political sphere - including a row over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture and the two nations' respective historical perceptions - was addressed separately from economic relations.

China sought to reopen bilateral exchanges, including high-level economic dialogue between economy-related ministers from the two countries, by resuming the energy and environmental forum first.

Many Chinese, mainly in provincial areas, believe progress in easing tensions between the two nations will help revive Japanese investment in their country, which has seen a sharp drop.

According to the Chinese Commerce Ministry, Japan's investment in China for 2014 stood at US$4.33 billion (S$5.8 billion), or about 503 billion yen (S$5.67 billion), down 38.8 per cent from a year earlier.

"After the latest summit meeting, we started getting phone calls from local Chinese governments, who asked us to open new factories in their areas," said an official of a major Japanese auto parts manufacturer.

The Japan-China relationship has been marked by what can be described as "cold political relations but hot economical ties" since 2001, when then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine.

The move led to a halt in political exchanges between the two nations. Meanwhile, Japan and China have briskly promoted bilateral economic ties during that time.

China's recent conduct vis-a-vis Japan seems to indicate that the Xi-led administration is increasingly inclined to swim with the tide of bilateral economic closeness once again. However, it is unclear whether China's seeming change in this respect will take hold.

To China, Sept. 3 of this year marks what it calls the 70th anniversary of its victory in the war against Japan.

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