Still Repairing Chinese-Japanese Relations by Asger Røjle Christensen

Yes, there has been a serious crisis recently between China and Japan.

The collision between a Chinese fishing trawler and a Japanese coastguard patrol boat close to the disputed islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, prompted both countries to take drastic measures which resulted in China canceling a number of high-level ministerial meetings between the two countries. But no, this doesn’t imply that the region is on the brink of open confrontation. It doesn’t disturb the general trend towards a more pragmatic cooperative attitude from both sides.

Junichiro Koizumi held the post of Prime Minister in Japan from 2001 until 2006. During the Koizumi years, relations between the two major powers of East Asia were indeed truly paralyzed. By visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo where 14 Japanese war criminals are still revered, Koizumi brought exchanges between high-level officials in the two countries to a halt for several years. At that time, the fact that the two major powers stopped communicating did indeed have serious implications for the region.

There are so many important issues that are universal in this globalized world. In order to face these issues there needs to be a dialogue in order to make things happen. That counts for environment, climate, energy, and also trade and financial matters.

The economic and political elites of both countries know this very well. For this reason, during the Koizumi years the elites in both countries were in fact united in the belief that history is important, but not so important that it be allowed to paralyze things to the extent that it ended up doing at that time.

When Koizumi resigned in 2006, therefore, one of the urgent tasks for his successor was to repair relations with China. Shinzo Abe, the new prime minister, who may have been an even bigger hawk than Koizumi, travelled to Beijing within two weeks of being appointed.

Within the next two years, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Prime Minister, and then the president, Hu Jintao, made broadly publicized visits to Japan .

All three visits were major public relations efforts from both governments for the benefit of skeptical populations in both countries. The smiling leaders played table tennis and watched baseball together while the cameras were on, and they obviously seemed to enjoy themselves while talking positively about the bright prospects of further cooperation in the future.

Most importantly, when Wen Jiabao recognized that Japanese leaders have actually apologized profusely on several occasions for the wartime invasions and war crimes committed by the Japanese imperial army, he did it in Chinese at the Japanese parliament, while it was being broadcasted across China and hence aimed at the Chinese public. This was received very well by the Japanese public.

He had finally done on China’s behalf what the then President, Kim Dae-jung, had done on behalf of South Korea ten years earlier. It was indeed a necessary step towards a future with less historical shadows over current relations.

This kind of show from the two governments’ side towards the two populations is extremely important as it is a fact that there is strong resentment towards the other side among the general population in both countries. The elites want to get along; they want to find some kind of working relationship where Japan has a role as neither partner nor rival to the new superpower on the continent, China, but rather something in-between, namely a very important second violin in the orchestra of East Asia.

Hostility among the population is a reality in China as a consequence of history and because new generations being so deliberately reminded about that unfortunate part of the long history.

But hostility among the population is also a reality in Japan where many people still have to adjust to the fact that in contrast to a few decades ago, China is now obviously the major power of the two. There is certainly a market in Japanese bookshops for literature about all kinds of evil intentions being harbored by the Chinese leadership.

The tough and shrill Chinese reaction to some of the recent crises, specifically the crisis following the September ship collision, has made even many liberal-minded and traditionally pro-China Japanese highly irritated about the conduct and intentions of their big neighbor. The new Japanese government has been harshly criticized for being too soft on China and too soft in the arrested Chinese captain; a criticism emanated across the political board in Japan.

Whenever there is a crisis in the relations between the two countries, one tends to focus on Chinese public opinion, but maybe we should also focus a little bit on avoiding a situation whereby developments on the Japanese side increase the risk of further political tensions.

Apparently, the two governments still have the important task of convincing their own people that the other side is not that bad after all. And to some degree they have a common understanding about this, in spite of all the harsh words during the peak of any crisis.

It is worth noting that on the very first day of the anti-Japan demonstrations in China last fall, the Japanese foreign minister publicly thanked the Chinese government for deliberately avoiding even bigger and more violent demonstrations.

At the same time the business community and civil society are busily shaping a future with much more integration between the two neighboring countries than one would expect considering the frequent political crises and the general public debate in the two countries.

Companies are busily hiring the brightest young people from each other’s country; students, from China at least, are busily applying to study in Japan; and young Chinese and Japanese backpackers are filling up the cheap hotels each other’s country.

In the end, it is these developments that will change the relations between the two countries much more effectively than any political developments ever will. In the meantime, in the aftermath of the crisis late last year, the politicians in both Japan and China once more have some repair work to do.



Asger Røjle Christensen,

Journalist, Danish Broadcasting Corporation,

NIAS associate Senior Fellow


Controversial Chinese activist receives the Simone de Beauvoir prize for Women’s freedom

On January 11th, in Paris, the Simone de Beauvoir prize for Women’s freedom 2010 was awarded to two Chinese women, GUO Jianmei 郭健梅, a lawyer in Beijing and Prof. AI Xiaoming 艾晓明 from Sun Zhongshan University (Canton). The Simone de Beauvoir Prize is an international human rights prize for women’s freedom, awarded since 2008 to individuals or groups fighting for gender equality and opposing breaches of human rights. It is named after the French author and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, known for her 1949 women’s rights treatise The Second Sex (see

GUO Jianmei is one of the founders of the Women’s Legal Research and Service Centre of the Law School of Peking University ( It was China’s first non-profit-making, non-governmental organization specializing in women’s legal aid. Since then, the centre has become an influential non-governmental organization safeguarding the rights and interests of women.

AI Xiaoming is a professor in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, Sun Yat-sen University, and head of the Sex/Gender Education Forum established in 2003. She is a feminist academic, a human rights activist, and director of several documentary films. Films she has directed include Care and Love (2007), the story of a villager who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion during childbirth and her attempts to seek legal redress against the hospital; The Epic of Central Plains (2006) on villagers in Henan Province who contracted AIDS while seeking to alleviate their poverty by selling their blood, and Tai Shi Village (2006) on the events surrounding a village’s attempts to remove their appointed local officials. Our Children (2009) is a documentary about the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that focuses on the experiences of parents whose children were killed when their schools collapsed.

As Prof. AI was not allowed to renew her passport, she sent a text that was read at the award ceremony (see a translation below).

Mayflower Falling Down on the Snow-covered Land

Speech of Gratitude

[Mrs AI Xiaoming, together with Mrs GUO Jianmei, is the recipient of the 2010 Simone de Beauvoir Prize presented on Monday 11th January, while she was away from Paris.]

One evening at the end of December, I received a phone call from the French embassy telling me that I was awarded the Simone de Beauvoir Prize. The two recipients of the award this year are both Chinese: Mrs GUO Jianmei, a lawyer in Beijing, and I myself.

When I received that call, I was in the waiting room of a railway station. As a cold front was coming from the north, the trains had been delayed. I was standing among a crowd of passengers loaded with luggage. As I did not wear enough for warmth, I could not help shivering. How could I believe in such good news?

Then I sent a message to my family and friends. I also informed the relevant parties of the university where I teach. I received warmest congratulations, much laughter, and yet a lot of questions. I had to explain whom Simone de Beauvoir was, and that her fight for women’s rights was not restricted to Europe. Even today, a century after her birth, the fight for women’s rights will not stop.

It is a miracle to be awarded such an important prize. Talking about this makes me feel slightly awkward. During the previous years, I did not have a clear understanding of where I really was. Because of filming, my friends who are lawyers and I had to face not only the violence of the triad, but also the hostility of the state police and their special unit. There was even a rumour that something horrible would be done in due course. (At this point, I cannot stop thinking of a scene in a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – a clan chief, with a knife in his hand, butchered, marinated and cooked someone troublesome into a famous Sichuan dish of fish with pickles; the dish, flavoured with coriander, was served at an official banquet.)

From this viewpoint, I find the prize particularly valuable. In the midst of cold winter days, there is a mayflower falling from the sky. It brings me immense esteem, blessings from close friends, attention from the faraway land, the brilliant ideals of Simone de Beauvoir….  My family, my friends and I realise that in spite of the clan chief’s paranoia, of the prevailing fear, indifference and isolation, there are much more love, care and support around us. People who are concerned about us share our desire for freedom – the fish that swims freely – and our love of human dignity, a feeling as broad and deep as the ocean.

In autumn 2008, I came to France to take part in the Shadows Festival of Chinese Independent Cinema. As I was walking with a friend on the streets of Paris, he took me to a café. We ordered a glass of rum. On the covered terrace of the café decorated with potted plants and flowers, there were two young ladies from the Middle East; they kindly asked us to take pictures for them. It was one of those delightful places you can find at the street corners as you wander along in Paris. My friend told me that it was Les Deux Magots, the café where Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre used to come to talk and write.

The ceremony of the award is taking place at Les Deux Magots. Unfortunately, the police refused to renew my passport. This is why I am unable to be with you today. I fought with all my strength, all for nothing, until I was forced to give up any hope of being with you.

At this very moment, in our marvellous country, so many astonishing events are taking place. A writer was committed for trial, on a charge of authoring six articles and he was sentenced to prison for 4,021 days although it took only 1,001 nights for Sheherazade to get her freedom back from the despot. Somewhere else in China, a female entrepreneur, whose house was burgled, died by setting herself on fire in order to protect her family from hooligans recruited by the property developers. On New Year’s Day, my filming assistant in Sichuan was taken away by the police. I was so looking forward to writing this thank-you speech in a quiet moment; but I was constantly interrupted by such bad news. In the midst of all the unexpected events and crises everywhere in the world, I do feel how insignificant I am.

Please let me express how grateful I am to all the members of the selection committee of this prize, particularly to its president, Professor Julia Kristeva. The prize promotes “the freedom of women” and is named after Simone de Beauvoir, a thinker who tirelessly fought for the liberation of women and of all human beings.

Today, you are awarding this prize to a Chinese woman, an ordinary academic who just very recently started to devote herself to make independent documentary films. With great humility, I accept this mayflower coming from the sky.

The lyrics of an old Chinese song from the time of the Sino-Japanese war go this way: “In May, flowers bloom over the field and cover the blood of the patriots”. This is what the mayflower coming from the capital city of liberty tells us: freedom and liberation are possible.

I thank Simone de Beauvoir.

I thank the spiritual flower she is sending me.

While China is covered with snow in this new century, a flower has come to brighten our prickly path.

January 5th 2010

Copyright AI Xiaoming (translated by G. Guiheux & R. Leung)

Gilles GUIHEUX is professor at the department of Oriental Languages and Civilisations, Paris Diderot University. His latest publication, a volume jointly edited with Khun-Eng Kua, is Social Movements in China and Hong Kong. The Expansion of Protest Space, Amsterdam University Press, 2009.
Professor Ai Xiaoming was a keynote speaker at the Second Sino-Nordic Women and gender Studies Conference held in Malmö, Sweden in 2005 under the theme ‘Gender and Human Rights’. A selection of papers from the conference will be published in the book Gender Equality, Citizenship & Human Rights edited by Pauline Stoltz, Marina Svensson, Cindy Sun and Qi Wang and will be published by Routledge April 2010. The book includes an interview with Professor Ai Xiaoming by Cecilia Milwertz.

The assassination of the Punjab Governor by Ishtiaq Ahmed

January 6, 2011

Pakistan plunged further towards anarchy, violence and terrorism as neo-fascist Islamists in the security services gunned down on January 4, 2011 Salmaan Taseer (66), the Governor of Pakistan’s most populous and dominant Punjab Province. Salmaan Taseer was a senior member of the Pakistan People’s Party whose leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2008. The PPP-led coalition government had already been confronted by a crisis when one of its partners the Muttahidda Quomi Movement (MQM) withdrew support on grounds that the government had increased the price of kerosene oil used by poor households and thus made life unbearable for people.

The main national opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was on the look out for an opportunity to bring the government down and seems determined to create as many problems as possible for the minority regime now in power. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is hoping to remain in office even when it does not enjoy a majority. A minority government is understandably going to be very weak. This would not be the first time that Pakistan would face such uncertain political future only this time the crises is greatly compounded by the challenge posed by the Islamists. It was just announced before publication of this article that the government has backed down from the increase in the price of kerosene. So, the parliamentary crisis may be over for now.

Taseer was killed by one of his bodyguards while others looked on. Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri admitted his guilt on television and then in court saying that Taseer deserved to die because he had described the blasphemy law as draconian. It may be recalled that some time back a poor Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for allegedly using sacrilegious language against Islam and Prophet Muhammad. Since 1982 a blasphemy law exists which prescribes severe punishment for those who use disparaging language or bodily gestures against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. That law has been made more and more severe through amendments in 1986 and 1991. Currently the death penalty is the automatic punishment for those found guilty of blasphemy.

Hundreds of non-Muslims, mainly Christians, as well as some free-thinking Muslims have been charged for blasphemy. At the lower levels the courts have found them guilty and passed the death sentence but because of the agitation by human rights organizations and pressure of international public opinion no individual has been executed up till now. Rather, at the higher levels the courts have found some technical basis to reduce the sentence or set such individuals free. That has of course not been the end of the matter. Such persons have either been killed by fanatics, or, granted humanitarian asylum in the West. Aasia Bibi is currently in jail.

In some cases fanatics have taken the law into their own hands and brutally killed alleged blasphemers. To this day, no such killer has been punished. Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti of the Lahore High Court had in 1995 found two Christians, Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih, not guilty of blasphemy and set them free. On October 10, 1997 Justice Bhatti was gunned down.

This time, death threats to Taseer had been issued by hundreds of clerics because he had advocated that the blasphemy law should be rescinded or amended drastically to make it safe. In a recent BBC interview the governor admitted the danger he faced but said that he believed in the innocence of Aasia Bibi and in the unjustness of the blasphemy law. He was a marked man since that day.

The fact that the police commando posted as bodyguard to protect the governor killed him has raised many questions about how reliable the security services in Pakistan are. It is widely believed that extremists committed to a violent Islamic revolution are now present at all levels of state machinery including the military, police and security services. When his death was announced the Islamists let loose a massive propaganda in the media but especially on the Internet describing the culprit, Qadri, a warrior of Islam and Taseer a renegade to Islam. Hundreds of leading clerics issued fatwas (religious rulings) that Taseer should not be given an Islamic burial.

The head of the leading fundamentalist party, the Jama’at-e-Islami, Munawwar Hasan blamed Taseer for provoking pious sensibilities by describing the blasphemy law in uncharitable manner. Incidentally, a PhD thesis on the Jama’at-e-Islami describing it as parliamentary, democratic party was approved by Goteborg University not very long ago. This is the level of scholarship in Sweden about Pakistani politics.

Pakistan is a failing state, but has not failed yet. Contrary to the fatwa of some ulema that Salmaan Taseer should be refused an Islamic burial, other clerics were willing to lead his funeral prayers. Thousands of people took part in the ceremony. He was buried with full official protocol, his bier being carried by men in uniform. He was given a state funeral with full honours. It means that not all people have gone mad. Salmaan Taseer was a brave man and one with strong convictions. Such individuals are becoming rare commodity in Pakistan. Unless the blasphemy law is repealed and the culprits punished according to the law, Pakistan’s decline into religio-fascism will be unstoppable.

Ishtiaq Ahmed

The writer is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at