SHANGHAI – Japan and China agreed Wednesday to step up their cooperation in combating air pollution when their environment ministers held their first talks in three years in the latest sign of thawing relations between Asia’s two biggest economies.
Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki met separately with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts, Chen Jining and Yoon Seong-kyu, in Shanghai a day before their trilateral meeting.
Chen, who was appointed to the ministerial post in late February, said at the outset of the meeting he is “very pleased” to discuss cooperation on environmental protection with Japan.
Mochizuki pointed out to Chen that the two countries have a long history of implementing anti-pollution measures together and they have achieved “good results.”
Following the meeting, Mochizuki told reporters, “I said we will offer maximum cooperation” to China in its battle against choking smog in many cities, typified by high levels of pollutant known as PM2.5,or harmful particles in the air with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns.
Mochizuki quoted Chen as saying that China wants to “follow a good example of Japan,” which also faced similar challenges during its years of economic development.
Mochizuki said the first ministerial meeting in three years has “laid out a situation in which officials (of both countries) will be able to adequately consult each other” over future joint programs.
He said he also agreed with Chen, formerly president of China’s prestigious Tsinghua University, to encourage local governments of the two countries to collaborate in dealing with PM2.5 issues.
Their meeting comes a week after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping — in their second talks in the last five months, held on the sidelines of a regional conference in Jakarta — agreed to promote various exchanges to rebuild trust between the two countries.
China’s public has become increasingly frustrated with the country’s serious air pollution and other environmental problems.
For the government of Xi, tackling them has become a priority, as failing to do so could generate ill feelings among ordinary citizens toward his leadership.
Despite lingering tensions with Japan over territorial and wartime issues, China is eager to learn from it and other countries about how best to tackle environmental problems.
With South Korea’s Yoon, Mochizuki said he also agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation on air pollution and marine waste management.