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Japan-China Relations: The Power of Gyoza March 20, 2008

Posted by genchan in Asian, China, Food, Health, Japan, Politics.
2 comments

Who would have thought that gyozas can become an issue affecting high level bilateral ties between two nations. Then again, nothing seems too surprising when it comes to Sino-Japanese relationship. For those who are fully aware of the icy thin political relations between the two Asian giants, one can’t help but ponder what next.

The gyoza saga is receiving high level attention simply because proper mechanisms are not in place to handle such incidents at the lower level. Certainly, more of such issues would crop up in the not-so-distant future considering the fact that bilateral trade is on the rise and the demand for cheaper food products is there in Japan.

However, cheaper foods can also mean improper food preparation to cut cost. This is where the gap lies – the stringent requirements of food preparation by the Japanese and the lack of legislation to ensure food safety by the Chinese. Unless the gap can be substantially reduced through mechanisms of understanding and enforcement, incidents such as the gyoza issue will continue to prevent healthy recovery of bilateral ties.

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Tainted ‘gyoza’ poisoning bilateral ties

By Frank Ching (The Japan Times, Monday, March 17, 2008)

HONG KONG — The tainted “gyoza” dumpling scare in Japan has caused the delay of President Hu Jintao’s visit to Tokyo and, if not properly handled, could result in the unraveling of the dramatic improvement in bilateral relations achieved since October 2006, when Shinzo Abe broke the ice by visiting Beijing shortly after he became prime minister, followed by Premier Wen Jiabao’s “ice melting” trip to Japan last spring.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda added to the momentum when he visited Beijing and other cities in China last December and invited President Hu Jintao to visit Japan in the spring, “when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.”

Much hinges on this pending visit, which will be the first Chinese presidential visit to Japan in a decade and will fall on the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Sino-Japanese peace and friendship treaty in 1978.

In the dumpling incident, 10 people were taken ill after eating imported Chinese dumplings tainted with an organo-phosphate insecticide called methamidophos. The subsequent media frenzy resulted in thousands of others reporting that they, too, felt sick after eating imported Chinese dumplings.

Consumption of Chinese food plummeted from 57.9 percent before the incident to 21.6 percent afterward. Kyodo News conducted a telephone survey and found that 75.9 percent of respondents said that they “will not use Chinese food from now on.”

China is Japan’s second-largest source of food imports after the United States and accounts for over half its imported frozen products, so the economic impact can be huge. But even more important is the potential damage to the political relationship between the two countries, which has only started to mend recently.

Although both countries agreed to cooperate in investigations into the dumpling incident, their respective investigative agencies ended up arguing over the origin of the toxins found in the dumplings.

Chinese officials have cleared Tianyang Food, in Shijiazhuang, in Hebei province, which made the dumplings, saying its strict quality-control measures make it almost impossible to introduce toxic substances. Chinese police have said there was little chance the dumplings were contaminated in China, directly contradicting the position taken by Japanese police.

Japanese investigators have noted that methamidophos is banned in Japan and so it is unlikely that the contamination took place in Japan.

China is saying that this is not a case of food safety, but rather of sabotage by someone who wants to harm Japan-China relations.

Well, if that is the case, the saboteur has been incredibly successful, as China and Japan are trading accusations. And now, the Hu visit, originally planned for late March or April, has been pushed back to the middle of May.

Moreover, the two sides have still not reached agreement on the dispute over gas exploration in the East China Sea, where there are overlapping territorial claims. They have agreed on the principle of joint development but, so far, there has been no agreement on the exact location where drilling will take place.

However, China has reportedly agreed to recognize a Japanese-drawn median line in the East China Sea. Even if this median line is acknowledged simply for the purposes of joint exploration and not territorial sovereignty, it is still a major step forward.

China’s ambassador to Japan, Cui Tiankai, has said the issue will be sorted out before President Hu’s trip. This issue, too, could cause a delay of the presidential visit.

What with the Abe-Wen-Fukuda visits, the two countries have been on a roll, and momentum for the improvement of relations has been building up over the last 17 months. However, if the dumpling issue and the East China Sea dispute continue to drag on, this momentum could be lost.

Actually, if need be, the two countries can set aside the dumpling issue and focus on the bigger issue of food safety. On that, it is clear, their interests are identical. China needs to export and Japan needs to import food, and this can only work if steps are taken to ensure that the food is safe from production through its appearance on supermarket shelves.

The disclosure that the Chinese parliament, the National People’s Congress, is considering food safety legislation is an encouraging sign and, one hopes, the saga of tainted Chinese food products may be coming to an end.

A breakthrough on the East China Sea is also vital. The presidential trip cannot be delayed indefinitely. The cherry blossoms, after all, start to bloom in late March and it is a stretch to say that they are still blooming in mid-May. But there can be no further delay.

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China’s anti-satellite weapon test January 24, 2007

Posted by genchan in China, General, Government, Security.
6 comments

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The militarization of space has begun – so warn some overly concerned pundits. Militarization of space? Has the militarization on earth been so advance that we are now taking it to the next stage?

Not exactly. But at least the concern is real. This is about the latest news on China first reported by an aerospace trade magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology (story here) that the Chinese successfully shot down one of its own aging weather satellite (Fengyun-1C) with a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile on Jan. 11.

With this news, it is now known that the US, former USSR and China are the only three countries in history to have anti-satellite weapons (ASATs) capability.

Before we get into the implications of China’s action, it is necessary to note that while the test marked the first successful use of a ground-based weapon, it is not unprecedented. A quick check on Wiki will reveal that the exploration of anti-satellite weapons dates back to the 1960s with the US and USSR separately engaging in the development and deployment of such space weapons. The USSR tested theirs by spewing out pellets from one satellite to destroy another in orbit and the US, though failed in their test fire in 1983, was successful in intercepting its own satellite P78 SolWind in September 1985 using a kinetic energy weapon launched from an airborne plane.

US’s ASAT program was made part of its broader Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or “Star Wars” to use ground- and space- based systems to protect the country from nuclear missiles. That unilateral action raised the stakes with the USSR sparking fears of a new arms race at that time that prompted a shift in the minute hand of the doomsday clock to 3 mins to midnight in 1984 (BAS).

While the tests carried out by the US and USSR can be framed within the context of the Cold War, why is China test firing theirs at a time like this? And now that China has proven its capability, what implications would it have on international relations and the future use of outer space?

The fact that a missile was launched from a Chinese base and destroyed a Chinese satellite in space while keeping mum about it does not reflect well on a growing power that has pledged to rise ‘peacefully’ and take responsibility for its actions. The opaqueness of its military and space programs and rocket technology including its status as a nuclear power inevitably add to the problem. It is therefore only natural that other countries have voiced their concerns and called on Beijing to explain its military intentions in space. When a country behave in ways that other countries fail to comprehend, it immediately raises doubts and concerns more so in areas related to security. This could add further tension to a strained Japan-China relations as Japan sees the matter as a security threat (Japan Times, Jan. 20, 2007).

It should have taken precautions by alerting other countries of its move since it should know very well that such acts would not go undetected and would certainly affect relations with other countries. Keeping silence about it while denying that China has any ambition to militarize space would only leave doubts on those fearing an attack in space. What was China trying to prove? Was it trying to surprise the world that it now has space offensive weapons or was it just a reckless act trying to get rid of its defunct satellite from orbit? 

If its a cheap shot at removing one of its aging satellites, it is indeed a reckless act. This is because blowing up a satellite in space at a height of 850km from earth will contribute to space debris that will continue to remain in space for at least a decade. This is on top of some 14,000 pieces already floating around since Soviet’s Sputnik I launch in 1957, with about 200 new pieces added every year (The Japan Times, Jan. 22, 2007). As quoted in Defensetech.org, the Chinese test could “lead to nearly 800 debris fragments of size 10 cm or larger, nearly 40,000 debris fragments with size between 1 and 10 cm, and roughly 2 million fragments of size 1 mm or larger,” and that “roughly half of the debris fragments with size 1 cm or larger would stay in orbit for more than a decade.”

It is not only the concern of space junk per se but how such debris with some smaller pieces travelling at about 29,000 kph could cause damage to other orbiting satellites, the International Space Station (ISS) and shuttle missions in space. NASA’s space shuttles have rerouted their paths a dozen times since the Challenger exploded in 1986 and the ISS also had to maneuver several times to avoid space debris (Japan Times, Jan. 22, 2007). Eventually, meteors will no longer be our only concern.

The most pressing concern for most nations, however, is whether China has the capability to blow up spy satellites and GPS tracking satellites orbiting at higher altitudes (about 20,000 km up). The US has a network of these satellites in orbit and depends heavily on them for information gathering/reconnaissance and guidance including its operation of missile defense system. The Newscientistspace reported that the Chinese test is a low technology and can be easily applied by other countries as well. It is hard to conceive China as a credible threat since it would require more testings and much more advanced systems to come close to directly challenge the US. Thus, it would be somewhat premature to immediately conclude that China is capable of or intends to destroy Western strategic satellites, though it does give the country some leverage of holding Western satellites hostage at least in theory. If anything, it clearly shows China’s resolve to beef up its military capabilities in the hope of acquiring a place among the great powers in sync with its growing economic clout.

Nonetheless, if left unattended, the problem could escalate with the US and Japan upgrading their satellites with defensive and/or offensive capabilities, effectively contributing to a new arms race in space. A return to the Cold War ages with China and the US at opposite poles would be the last thing we want.

To avoid such escalations and prevent other countries from having any great ideas, its high time the Outer Space treaty, where the US and China are signatories, be upgraded to include a ban on ASATs testing or the use of lasers to take out orbiting satellites. There should be binding rules that would guarantee the use of space only for peaceful means.

Asian summits concluded in Cebu January 19, 2007

Posted by genchan in ASEAN, China, Community, East Asia, Japan, Regionalism, Southeast Asia.
3 comments

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The Asian summits were due to be held in mid-December last year but called off due to what the host country, Philippines, saw as an approaching thunderstorm that would wreck havoc the carefully planned meetings. Unofficially, part of the reason was thought to be due to fears of a looming terrorist attack based on external intelligence sources. Whatever the reasons, Philippines chose to play safe and postponed it to a month later on a last minute notice.

Thus, the summits were carried out in Cebu from the 13th to 15th January under heavy security, successfully concluded without the storm nor the attacks.

There were four summit level meetings held consecutively a day apart. In an ‘inductive’ format, the ASEAN leaders gathered for their 12th ASEAN Summit on the first day, followed by the 10th ASEAN Plus Three (APT) Summit and the 7th Tripartite Summit (plus three members) on the second day, and finally the 2nd East Asia Summit on the last day.

What have these meetings discussed and agreed upon? Below is a summary.

1. ASEAN Summit

  • uphold centrality of ASEAN and its standing as the driving force
  • five agreements were signed:
    1. Cebu Declaration Towards a Caring and Sharing Community – which reiterates ASEAN’s commitment to accelerate cooperation to improve the quality of life for citizens in the ASEAN region
    2. Cebu Declaration on the Blueprint for the ASEAN Charter – ASEAN leaders endorsed the Report of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) on the ASEAN Charter and requested a task force to begin drafting the Charter before the next Summit.
    3. Cebu Declaration on the Acceleration of the Establishment of an ASEAN Community by 2015 – which will advance the integration of the ASEAN Community five years ahead of the original plan.
    4. ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers – which will intensify ASEAN efforts to promote fair and appropriate employment protection for ASEAN migrant workers.
    5. ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism – aims at enhancing and deepening regional cooperation on counter terrorism activities.
  • hasten the establishment of an ASEAN Economic Community to  2015 by transforming ASEAN into a region with free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labour, and freer flow of capital.
  • statement on Myanmar included in light of the failed UNSC resolution
  • agreed to forge closer cooperation with Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

2. APT Summit

  •  reaffirmed the APT as the main vehicle in realizing an East Asia community, with ASEAN as the driving force, and with the active participation of the Plus Three members.
  • noted the scheduled adoption of the Second Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation at the next APT Summit in Singapore, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of APT cooperation. The statement shall identify opportunities and challenges and offer strategic guidance for future direction of APT apart from reviewing a decade of accomplishments.
  • acknowledged China’s proposal for a regional monitoring center on infectious diseases. Also acknowledged with appreciation Japan’s new pledge of USD 67 million for battling avian and pandemic influenza in the region.
  • welcomed the outcome of the feasibility study by the Expert Group on the EAFTA, which was spearheaded by China.  And also welcomed the proposal of South Korea to conduct the Phase II study involving the in-depth sector-by-sector analysis of the EAFTA.
  • welcomed the proposal of Japan to establish an Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA).

3. Tripartite Summit

  • held for the first time in two years.
  • agreed to set up a trilateral consultation mechanism at level of senior foreign affairs officials to conduct close communication and coordination on regional matters.
  • agreed to start negotiations on trilateral investment agreement asap in 2007.
  • welcomed China’s proposal to designate 2007 as the Year of Cultural Exchange among China, Japan and South Korea.
  • agreed that the trilateral cooperation is important for East Asia cooperation and that they respect ASEAN as playing the leading role.
  • ‘abduction issue’ was not stated in the report but worded as “addressing the issue of humanitarian concerns of the international community”. China was reported as being supportive of Japan’s concerns in the abduction issue and would provide “necessary cooperation” (The Japan Times, Jan. 18, 2007)
  • took note of the progress and looked forward to more positive results of the joint research on trilateral FTA.

4. East Asia Summit

  • signed the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security to improve the efficiency and environmental performance of fossil fuel use, and to reduce dependence on conventional fuels, among others.
  • reiterated support for ASEAN’s role as the driving force for economic integration in the region.
  • agreed to launch a Track Two study on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA) among EAS participants (based on Japan’s proposal for a free trade area among the 16 members).
  • included the phrase on the ‘abduction issue’ (first time ever) as Japan work to get support from the members for the unresolved abduction dispute between Japan and North Korea.

Apart from the above, there were ASEAN+1 summits held as well. With China, ASEAN signed an agreement on Trade in Services and another agreement on enhancing cooperation in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) on the 14th of January.

Other news include a AUD 5 million finance by Australia announced on 12th January for the second phase of the ASEAN Plus Three Emerging Infectious Diseases Progamme (EID), which aims to assist ASEAN countries in developing a regional instrument to mobilise multi –national (ASEAN) outbreak response teams.

Prostitutes on parade in China December 8, 2006

Posted by genchan in China, General, Social.
2 comments

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Celebrating Prostitute Day? Nope. Its a ‘shame parade’ where about 100 prostitutes together with their male customers get paraded along a busy street watched by thousands of curious onlookers in Shenzhen, a hot-spot for such activities.

Wearing a bright yellow prison t-shirt, their surgical mask weren’t enough to shield their identity as their names, hometowns and dates of birth were made public in addition to 15 days in prison as part of their punishment.

The interesting part is that parading sex criminals is not something new in China. It has been done many times in the past. What’s different this time around is the increasing number of protest and outrage at an act considered too old-fashioned and an insult to women. Certainly, it violates human rights of which China has so often been accused of by the international community. And some critics question why prostitutes and not other crimes like grafts and corruption.

Interestingly, the authorities will be investigating the matter though its hard to see what good it will do since damage has been done.