The need for cooperation between Japan and China to tackle air pollution is increasing, but the territorial tension over the Senkaku Islands is getting in the way.
Health concerns are growing in Japan, especially in Kyushu, where steep rises in the amount of the toxic air pollutant PM2.5 have been confirmed since the start of the year.
PM2.5, or hazardous particulate matter measuring below 2.5 microns — 2.5/1000th of a millimeter — in diameter, is found in automobile exhaust. Levels, however, have increased sharply as air pollution in China has worsened since January, with thick smog in Beijing resulting in expressway closures and flight cancellations.
An Environment Ministry panel concluded that recent increases in the amount of PM2.5 in Kyushu are attributable to air pollution from the Chinese mainland. PM2.5 levels are also increasing on remote islands.
The ministry has drawn up provisional guidelines advising people to stay indoors if the daily average level of PM2.5 is expected to be severe. Local and prefectural governments are announcing air-quality levels on their websites.
Japan is managing to reduce the amount of PM2.5 it produces, according to the ministry, which is working on ways to further cut pollution.
But these efforts will be for nothing if China doesn’t address its air pollution problem.
Japan has offered clean-air technologies to China and called for joint studies.
It hopes to reach an agreement on cooperation with China and South Korea at a trilateral meeting of environment ministers to be held in Kitakyushu in May.
Japan and China have already agreed to combat acid rain in East Asia but have made little headway. China has yet to provide Japan with PM2.5 data.
The mood between the two countries is hardly favorable for talks on pollution or any other issue as Tokyo and Beijing are at loggerheads over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China claims the islets as its territory.
Japan is carefully trying to move negotiations with China forward.
“We are not claiming to be the victim and they (China) the culprit,” said Shinji Inoue, senior vice minister of the environment.
The Chinese government is aware that the situation can’t be ignored. It declared at the National People’s Congress in March that it will seriously address the issue.
China is keen to learn from Japanese experiences with environmental protection, according to informed sources.