Hu faces uphill battle to win over the minds of Japanese students

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 May, 2008, 12:00am

President Hu Jintao will face an uphill battle to win the hearts and minds of young Japanese, whose impression of the mainland has been soured by the recent unrest and police response in Tibet.

Student activists at prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo, where Mr Hu will give a speech on Thursday, have already vowed to protest against his visit and said they will voice concerns over the mainland's human rights record.

'We will unfold the flag of Tibet before the school hall [where Mr Hu is to give the speech]. We will have some other activities to make [students] aware of the human rights violations in Tibet,' said Kosuke Yanagihara, a computer science student.

Leaders in both countries believe that promoting friendship and better understanding among the young, particularly the educated elite, is the key to improving the bilateral relationship and building a sound foundation for future co-operation.

Premier Wen Jiabao scored high marks for playing a little baseball with students at a high school in Kyoto during his 'ice-melting' trip to Japan last year and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda visited Beijing's prestigious Peking University in December.

Impressing the best and brightest Japanese youth will be high on Mr Hu's agenda next week. According to Japanese media reports, Mr Hu will play a game of table tennis with Mr Fukuda besides giving a speech at Waseda University.

But the task for Mr Hu will be all uphill. Many Waseda students said their impressions of China had been greatly marred by what they had seen on television. They said they were particularly upset by Beijing's order banning all foreign journalists from visiting Tibet. 'We don't support the independence of Tibet, but we are concerned at the obvious human rights violations taking place there,' said Tomoki Nakayama, an undergraduate studying literature.

'There are conflicting reports, and we don't know what is really happening in Tibet because of the news blackout. We don't trust what the Chinese government says because we can't understand why they don't allow foreign journalists into Tibet if they have nothing to hide.'

Mr Nakayama and his friends organised a forum on the Tibet issue last month that drew dozens of supporters. They said they opposed Mr Hu's visit to the university and would make their voices heard. 'As a Waseda student, we are proud of our university's traditional values that prize openness, reason and freedom of speech,' he said. 'Mr Hu represents none of these values, and his government's [behaviour] contradicts these values.'

Another student, Watanabe Tsuyoshi, said he was upset by the secretive manner of Mr Hu's visit.

'Our school's home page has never announced anything about his visit,' he said. 'We have not been informed or consulted. We can't understand why they would need to keep such a thing secret.'

Indeed, the home page of the university still failed to mention Mr Hu's visit yesterday. But the Foreign Ministry in Beijing did not formally announce the trip until Tuesday.

The student activists were confident that university authorities would not thwart their protest plans. They said they had support from professors, student societies and people off campus. They stressed they had nothing against Chinese people and described themselves as 'admirers of Chinese culture'.

Even among apolitical students, impressions remain negative. 'The food safety problems in China make me worried. I have lost confidence in Chinese products after the poisoned dumpling case, even though I understand the trade relationship with China is very important to us', student Tomoaki Suenobu said.

Akihiro Nomura said he was worried by the rising nationalistic sentiment on the mainland. 'I don't feel Chinese people are friendly,' he said.