Wen Jiabao

Military rivals seize chance to co-operate

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 March, 2011, 12:00am


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The military chiefs of China and Japan, usually at odds over territorial and security issues, have found a rare opportunity to co-operate in the wake of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami, but diplomatic concerns still linger amid the relief efforts, analysts say.

Defence Minister Liang Guanglie reached out to his Japanese counterpart, Toshimi Kitazawa, after the disaster, offering his condolences and the services of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to aid in the island nation's recovery. It was an opportunity for Beijing to ease strained ties and dial down the usual hostility with Tokyo.

Many Sino-Japanese organisations on the mainland are leading the charge by coming up with ways to offer help to Japan, according to Gao Haikuan, a specialist in Northeast Asian security with the China Association for International Friendly Contact.

Gao said at least 20 experts from a Beijing-based Sino-Japanese history study society, including scientists, radiation experts and architects who studied in Japan, had volunteered to help deal with post-disaster reconstruction.

'Since many Japanese showed their kindness and donated a lot of relief supplies and funds to Chinese victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, we now have an opportunity to repay them,' Gao said. 'We should let the Japanese public know that even though we have had disputes and disagreements as a result of history, we are still their friends.'

Other non-governmental organisations on the mainland are also raising funds for disaster victims.

At the national level, China was quick to offer a wide range of goods and services to Japan, from fresh water to fuel, food, first-aid supplies and other relief materials. Premier Wen Jiabao called his opposite number with an offer of assistance, and a 15-member Chinese rescue team landed in quake-hit Ofunato, Iwate prefecture, last Sunday, the first overseas team to conduct relief work in the city.

Liang's call to Kitazawa included an offer to send the PLA Navy's hospital ship Peace Ark. That offer has yet to be taken up, but Liu Jiangyong , a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University, said the gesture from Liang was rare for a Chinese defence minister.

Naval expert Song Xiaojun said Beijing would be willing to send PLA troops and crews to Japan to help with the clean-up.

'Japan has to deal with a lot of reconstruction work and China is uniquely able to share that burden with them,' Song said. 'Our Armed Police officers and relief organisations have a great deal of experience in dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes. We learned a lot from similar disasters in Sichuan in 2008 and Qinghai last year.'

But Song said pressure from Japan's ally the United States would ensure Tokyo would turn down the PLA offers.

'The US would not allow the Chinese army to land on Japanese territory because Tokyo has a key role ... in the Asia-Pacific region,' he said. 'If China became Japan's friend in need, it would definitely ruin the US strategic plan to counter China's rise.'

Retired PLA major general Xu Guangyu said Beijing would respect Tokyo's decision either way.

'The Chinese government and top military leaders expressed our willingness to help the Japanese, but we understand that Tokyo also has its own considerations. We should let them decide,' Xu said.

Tsinghua's Liu agreed, saying China only needed to provide help in response to a Japanese request.

'We should treat General Liang's rare call to Kitazawa in a diplomatic manner. If Japan wants China to do something, such as provide free fuel, we should try our best to do it,' Liu said. 'However, if they don't want us to, we should not do it. Otherwise, it would have a negative impact.'