BEIJING – Few things make Keiji Ide, minister in charge of press relations at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, happier than a chance to show Chinese news clippings that quote him on sensitive issues of Sino-Japanese politics or history.
One clip, from the April 18 issue of China Newsweek magazine, played Ide’s comments on Japan’s contentious history textbooks across the bottom of two pages.
Another gem appeared Feb. 23 in the Beijing News on a page about China’s opposition to what it perceived as a U.S.-Japanese pact to protect self-ruled Taiwan, which China sees as its territory.
Japan and the United States agreed in February to reinforce their alliance under a new set of common security objectives to deal with “unpredictability and uncertainty” in the Asia-Pacific region amid China’s rising military power, tension across the Taiwan Strait and North Korea’s nuclear threat.
The article quotes Ide as saying Japan’s position favoring Beijing over Taipei has not changed. He got a quarter of the page, at the bottom.
Because most of China’s news on Japan is negative, Ide said, any reporter’s effort to contact him for a balanced news report is a milestone.
He gets 12 or 13 citations a month, usually quotes or sidebars inserted into China-dominated news packages about Sino-Japanese political or historical issues.
“It’s a very difficult job for me,” Ide said. “The overwhelming majority of articles is very negative. My job in China is not the same as my colleague’s in the U.S.”
But after a series of mass anti-Japan rallies in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities in April, the embassy received “several e-mails a day” from Japanese citizens calling China’s discontent a failure of Japan’s diplomacy, Ide said.
He has responded by stepping up Chinese media outreach, the best way the Foreign Ministry believes it can influence China’s opinions on history and modern politics.
“I know we have 1.3 billion people out there and can’t reach everyone, but we can’t just sit there,” the ministry’s assistant press secretary, Akira Chiba, said last month.
Chinese say they dislike Japan because they think it has not atoned for occupying parts of China from 1931 to 1945 and for Japan’s stance on modern political disputes, including Tokyo’s control over disputed islets in the East China Sea, which are called the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyu in China, and offshore drilling rights.
When Ide finds that a particular publication, including the Beijing News or Oriental Outlook magazine, follows Japanese issues, he calls to ask whether he could meet with a reporter or an editor.
About half the people he calls turn him down.
He wants to show China that Japan has “repented” for the war and that it is a now a democratic country. He gives editors and reporters bilingual copies of the Constitution and a synopsis of Japanese official development assistance to China. He tells them Japan doesn’t censor its media and the Diet keeps the Self-Defense Forces in check.
Ide does not know how much rubs off.
Textbooks, tabloid media and other sources give Chinese people, especially youths, the impression that Japan has not changed since 1945 after occupying Chinese territory for 14 years, he said.
Beijing also controls what is said about Japan.
In 2001, for example, China Central TV cut images of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi bowing at the Marco Polo Bridge, site of a 1937 China-Japan battle in Beijing.
“The Chinese have never heard of these efforts by Japan,” Ide said.
Media outreach doesn’t end with scheduled interviews.
The embassy chooses 10 to 20 Chinese journalists per year to visit Japan, where they spend a week or more meeting Japanese officials. There is no obligation to write anything. The embassy also gives Chinese reporters in Beijing two chances per month to hear speeches by Japanese officials or Japanese nongovernmental organizations.
Another tactic: Answer all media calls and get back to reporters with information before their deadlines.
The Chinese government seldom gives such access or response times to reporters outside the top official media, including CCTV.
To keep Japanese e-mail writers and other taxpayers posted, the embassy Web site carries Japanese-language information on its efforts to sway Chinese opinion.
Opinions in China vary on whether Japan’s media outreach will pay off.
A Beijing News international relations reporter, who has interviewed Ide at his choosing as well as hers, said she puts the Japanese view in her stories to be objective but doubts her articles will prompt a “widespread” readership to appreciate Japan.
“It’s not the majority who are accepting this, but it’s changing little by little,” said the reporter, who did not want to be named. “There is a portion of people who can accept it.”
More readers will be swayed by banner headlines in popular commuter papers such as the Global Times, said Jian Yi, a former teacher at the Communication University of China.
The publication likes to feature China’s views on issues with Japan, Taiwan and the U.S.
“A quick answer — I doubt (the embassy’s outreach) will work,” Jian said.
Japanese officials also must take action consistent with what the embassy tells Chinese reporters, said Zhou Ying, a writer at the weekly newspaper Beijing Today.
“What they say is one thing, but it’s what they do,” Zhou said. “Don’t say one thing and do something else.”
And if the embassy tries to escape blame for actions in Japan that irk the Chinese, including Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine or the approval of nationalist textbooks, she said, Chinese journalists will not listen.
Zhou said her paper must be cautious about what it reports because Sino-Japanese news is considered sensitive and controlled more tightly than other topics.
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