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The Japan Foundation set up its programme in 2008 to improve exchanges between Japan and China. Photo: Shutterstock

Chinese intellectuals called traitors online for Japan exchange visits

  • Trips were organised and paid for by the Japan Foundation, partly funded by the Japanese government
  • Some criticise the Chinese participants for helping to promote Japan, but analyst draws parallel with China’s Confucius Institutes
Nearly 200 Chinese intellectuals who took part in a Japanese government-affiliated exchange programme have been branded “traitors” on Chinese social media, reflecting rising nationalistic sentiment in China.

They were sponsored to visit Japan by the Japan Foundation, which is overseen by the Japanese foreign ministry and funded by government subsidies, investment revenue and private sector donations.

The programme was started in 2008 to improve exchanges between the two countries, with 196 Chinese intellectuals having been sponsored as of 2019, the ministry said.

But participants have been criticised by some people online, after the visits recently came to their attention. He Bing, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, writers Jiang Fangzhou and Xiong Peiyun, and journalist Duan Hongqing were among those targeted.

Jiang was accused of promoting Japanese propaganda through her 2017 book One Year in Tokyo.

“[Jiang] got the money from the Japanese government and tried to flatter Japan – traitor,” one Weibo user wrote.

The hashtag had been read 70 million times as of Tuesday afternoon.

Responding on Weibo, Jiang rejected the accusation, saying the programme was a “normal cultural exchange” and denying “taking money from the [Japanese] ministry”.

Jiang said the reason for her three-month trip to Japan in 2016 was being “invited to communicate”. The foundation paid her living costs and research fees totalling about 20,000 yuan (US$3,100) per month, then she stayed for a few more months at her own expense, she said.

“The book records my experience of living alone, mostly psychological feelings, travel experiences and literary reviews,” she said. Writing and publishing it had “nothing to do with the foundation”, she said.

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She added: “Japan has committed crimes during World War II and has not apologised so far. This is unforgivable and unquestionable.”

There has been a rise in nationalism in China in recent years, which Chinese analysts said had damaged international exchanges.

A funding programme announced last month by the US embassy in China was described by Chinese state media as “recruiting traitors”. The programme offered funding of up to US$30,000 each to NGOs and individuals carrying out programmes in support of civil society, museums, national parks, nature reserves and community organisations.

Li Haidong, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University, was quoted by nationalistic tabloid Global Times as saying the programme was initiated by the US Department of State to infiltrate China and possibly instigate a “colour revolution”.

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Pang Zhongying, an international relations professor at the Ocean University of China, said attacks on the programmes were detrimental to China’s exchanges with the world and would cause a backlash, given that China, too, ran cultural exchanges overseas.

“It is natural for these Chinese citizens to reflect and write something after participating in the programme,” Pang said. “Why should it be politicised?

“It cannot be said that it is a conspiracy by Japan. China runs Confucius Institutes in Japan – what would people say [if the roles were reversed]? China also encourages people to go out and tell good stories about China in Japan.”
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Chinese Intellectuals called traitors for Japan exchange visits