An increasing number of local and prefectural governments are securing footholds in China to attract tourists, support their businesses tapping the gigantic market and promote regional products.
As of last summer, governments around Japan had opened 66 offices in China, outnumbering those in other countries by a wide margin, including 19 in South Korea and 17 in the U.S., according to the Council of Local Authorities for Internal Relations.
Previously, local governments promoted cultural exchanges with their Chinese counterparts via friendship pacts that resulted in economic cooperation.
Recently, they are prioritizing economic ties by pledging “give-and-take relations” and are thus opening offices to seek “quick results,” said Toshinori Ogata, director general of the council.
In 2010, the Kumamoto Prefecture opened an office in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China, to promote tourism to and signature products from the prefecture.
Selling alcoholic beverages and rice produced in the prefecture, Guangxi Kumamoto Plaza attracts many visitors and they often make bulk purchases, a senior prefectural official boasted.
“The continuing promotion of our products is much more effective than temporary displays at fairs,” he said.
In 2011, the prefectural government of Saga opened an office in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, while Yamagata opened one in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, becoming the first prefectures with outlets in the northeastern cities, where new business development is expected under the backing of Beijing.
But 36 of the 66 offices are located in bustling Shanghai, reflecting a strong “lock-step mentality” by local and prefectural governments, Ogata said.
The governments also consider it easier to win support from their residents by opening offices in “star cities” instead of outlets in places that are little known in Japan, he added.
Leaders of local governments in Japan and China attended a forum in Tokyo in April to promote exchanges. Many Chinese participants were from inland cities far from Shanghai, reflecting Chinese hopes that Japanese local governments will pay greater attention to inland cities with growth potential, said a Chinese Foreign Ministry official.