“Sometimes you need a major crisis to bring people together.”
When former United Nations Security Council President Kishore Mahbubani said these words to attendees of the 2015 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), he was, of course, referring to financial crises.
However, time and time again we have seen the truth of these words applied to all manner of disasters, as individuals, communities and countries have banded together to help one another in times of need. Just recently, for example, we saw a global outpouring of support to help fight the bushfires that have plagued Australia.
Both the United States and Canada dispatched expert firefighters, while New Zealand, Singapore, Papua New Guinea and France all offered either military assistance or operational support. Numerous celebrities donated significant amounts of money, while some of the worlds biggest corporations also got involved. It elicited a global response.
Now, coronavirus appears to be having a similarly positive effect on the historically strained relations of China and Japan.
It is no secret that relations between China and Japan are turbulent at best.
From territorial disputes in the South China Sea, to long-term resentment stemming from Japan’s wartime occupation of mainland China – which included the infamous "Rape of Nanjing" and Unit 731's human experimentation program – there is always something getting in the way of cooperation between the two countries. And while relations have been gradually improving, and anti-Japan/China sentiments are declining amongst their respective populations, their relationship is still a work in progress.
Coronavirus however, may just be the catalyst that helps speed up this progress.
At the time of writing, coronavirus (officially COVID-19) has infected an estimated 600,000 people globally and caused more than 28,000 deaths. Many of which have occurred in China. But, just as Mahbubani alluded to, China has not been alone in its fight against the virus. Japan and its people have taken this opportunity to step up and help its struggling neighbour, which has not gone unnoticed by the Chinese people or government.
For example, on February 13, Deputy Director-General of the Chinese Foreign Ministry Information Department, Lijian Zhao, tweeted out an image showing a large donation of much-needed masks and thermometers that had been made by the Japan Youth Development Association (JYDA).
Reports have also surfaced online of similar donations of masks, clothes and protective clothing being made by Japanese cities to their Chinese sister cities, as well as an uptake in more local fundraising and awareness-building campaigns.
Companies, such as Ito-Yokado, Maeda Construction, Air Water and Muji, have also assisted by donating masks and other assorted protective supplies. While the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party also made the symbolic gesture of donating roughly 2 million yen, after announcing that every one of its members would donate 5,000 yen from their monthly salary.
Of course, with cases rising in Japan, China and its people have been quick to reciprocate this generosity. In late February, the Chinese Government donated 12,500 coronavirus test kits to Japan amidst a nationwide shortage.
In early March, Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, co-founder of internet retailing giant Alibaba, donated one million masks. The Chinese government have also pledged to provide continued support to Japan as is necessary and within their capabilities. But, perhaps the greatest demonstration of their ability to work together has been the combined efforts of both countries governments to evacuate the 800 Japanese nationals, and their families, who were either living or travelling in the affected area, at the time of the outbreak.
Most importantly, it hasn’t just been a Japanese response to a Japanese problem, or a Chinese response to a Chinese problem, but a combined response to a shared problem. To try and solve it, the two countries have had to work together.
Thus, what the Australian bushfires taught us earlier this year and what the coronavirus is teaching us now, is that Mahbubani was right: sometimes you do need a crisis to bring people together.
And, with high ranking Chinese politician Yang Jiechi saying on his most recent visit to Japan that:
“I’m confident that people in both countries helping one another and extending goodwill in the face of the spreading contagion will help drive recovery and development of bilateral ties.”
It's apparent that if China and Japan can pull one positive out of the coronavirus outbreak, it’s that they are capable of working together. And, while the jury is out on how long it will last, it is at least a step in the right direction.
Hayden Marks is a teacher and an aspiring author.
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