BEIJING – Toyota Motor Corp. and China’s prestigious Tsinghua University are conducting joint research on air pollution, officials involved in the project revealed Saturday.
The research focusing on PM2.5, dangerous particulates with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns that are causing serious air pollution and health problems in China, is a rare instance of cooperation between the two countries at a time when the bitter sovereignty dispute over the Japan-held Senkaku Islands is intensifying.
Toyota and Beijing-based Tsinghua, one of the most renowned Chinese universities in engineering and technology education, intend to complete the research by March 2015, the officials said, adding that some interim results may be released earlier.
Under the project, Toyota, known for its hybrid vehicle technology, is providing data related to exhaust emissions and other information on automotive technology to Tsinghua. Based on the automaker’s data, Tsinghua is trying to discover the generating mechanism of PM2.5 particulates, the main cause of air pollution in China, according to the officials.
Toyota’s cooperation with the university dates back to 2003, when it launched a joint venture in China to make a full entry into its growing auto market. The two set up the Tsinghua University-Toyota Research Center in 2006.
The current PM2.5 project has been carried out at the center since April, according to the officials, although the start of the research has never been officially announced.
In 2009, China overtook the United States as the world’s largest auto market. As demand for cars and trucks is expected to expand for some time in China, particularly in inland areas, reducing exhaust emissions has become increasingly urgent.
Investment by the Chinese government alone in measures to combat air pollution over the next five years will amount to 1.7 trillion yuan (about ¥26.7 trillion).
By offering some of its know-how to the Chinese university, Toyota, for its part, is apparently trying to sharpen its environmental technologies to create future business opportunities.
Despite the soured ties between Asia’s two biggest economies, the Chinese government is also counting on Japan’s advanced technologies and expertise to alleviate air pollution problems that have stoked public anger toward the communist country’s leaders. When a Japanese business delegation led by then-Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho visited Beijing in March, Vice Commerce Minister Chen Jian said, “Japan has the most know-how to cope with pollution.”
The Sino-Japanese relationship has sunk to its lowest point in recent times since Tokyo’s purchase last September of a significant portion of the Senkakus, which China calls Diaoyu and claims as an inherent part of its territory, from their private owner in Saitama.
Although the 35th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China will be marked Monday, there has been no high-level political contact for almost a year now amid the badly frayed ties. However, bilateral cooperation over environment issues is still taking place through various channels.