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2008年6月 2日 (月)


06/02/2008 --The Asahi Shimbun, May 31(IHT/Asahi: June 2,2008)

Aborted SDF mission


The government has scuttled a plan to use Air Self-Defense Force aircraft to fly tents and other relief supplies to China for survivors of the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province. The decision was prompted by growing signs of a public backlash against the plan in China. The government will use civilian chartered aircraft for the task instead.



The use of SDF aircraft in China would have marked a landmark event in bilateral relations. But ill-feelings still abound among Chinese people over the Imperial Japanese Army's invasion of China.

If the Chinese people had accepted the proposed SDF transport operation, setting aside their feelings about Japan's wartime past for the sake of quake victims, ties between the two countries would have deepened further.


However, public opinion in China about the SDF mission was sharply divided, as indicated by reactions to Japanese news reports on the plan posted on the Internet. Remarks by Chinese leaders in Beijing also reflected conflicting feelings about the issue.


Wounds of history are slow to heal. It is hardly surprising that there are still people in China who are not ready to welcome an aircraft bearing the Hinomaru national flag flying over their land, even for disaster relief activity.

Chongqing, a city close to the quake-ravaged area, was repeatedly targeted for air raids by Japanese forces during the war.

The government, in heeding Chinese sentiment, was correct to abandon the mission.



Even so, the fact that both Tokyo and Beijing seriously considered use of SDF aircraft for quake relief activity in China, even briefly, is quite notable. Until recently, it would have been unimaginable, given the traditional prickly relationship between the two countries.



The idea would not have emerged had it not been for the marked improvement in the bilateral ties in the past few years, symbolized by reciprocal visits by top Japanese and Chinese leaders.

During his visit to Japan shortly before the quake, Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to explore possibilities of bilateral cooperation in the areas of disaster relief and U.N. peacekeeping operations.



The two countries also started exchanges between their respective militaries. In November, a Chinese military vessel visited Japan for the first time.

In June, a Maritime Self-Defense Force escort ship is scheduled to make a reciprocal visit to China. The proposal to dispatch SDF aircraft to China for the relief supplies transport mission came against the backdrop of growing exchanges between the defense authorities of the two countries.



This makes it all the more imperative for the two governments to prevent the cancellation of the SDF transport plan from hampering the expansion of interactions between Japan and China.

Both governments should continue their efforts to promote beneficial exchanges between them so as to build bilateral relations based on mutual trust.



There was, however, something troubling about the way the Japanese government handled the matter. Given the situation in China, Tokyo should have trodden more carefully in proceeding with the plan. The government may have moved too fast in trying to make the historic SDF dispatch happen.



What Japan should focus on now is to do all it can to help China deal with the crisis triggered by the earthquake. The Ground SDF appears to be reluctant to supply a large number of its tents for Chinese quake survivors. But Japan should provide the maximum possible amount of relief supplies to the country. Emergency reserves of such supplies at local governments should also be used.


Japan can provide effective assistance to China in various areas, including medical services, disease prevention and the construction of temporary housing.


There are many intractable issues between Japan and China, including some bitter disputes concerning national security and food safety. But Japan should respond to the situation in the spirit of helping a neighbor in trouble.



--The Asahi Shimbun, May 31(IHT/Asahi: June 2,2008)

朝日新聞 5月31日号 (英語版 2008年6月02日発行)


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