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A groundswell of goodwill towards Japan after disasters

SINGAPORE -- It was just six months ago that Sino-Japanese ties hit new lows with a row over the arrest by the Japanese of a Chinese trawler captain in the disputed waters of the Tiaoyu/Senkaku islands.

Just days before the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, ties were strained further as news broke on March 8 of the Chinese extracting oil in the disputed Chunxiao oilfield in the East China Sea.

But Japan's triple disasters of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis have eased tensions between the two sides as Beijing was quick to show goodwill and sympathy and to offer help.

On the day the earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao spoke with his Japanese counterpart Naoto Kan on the telephone, offering China's condolences and help.

A week after the quake, Chinese President Hu Jintao called at the Japanese embassy in Beijing to offer his condolences. He declared that the Chinese people as close neighbors felt deeply the pain the Japanese were suffering.

Apart from sending a 15-member rescue team, Beijing also sent 30 million yuan (US$4.5 million) worth of emergency aid including blankets and tents. It later sent 10 tons of bottled drinking water, and has pledged to send 20,000 tons of fuel.

Beyond the diplomatic gestures, however, it is sentiments on the ground that could have longer-term impact on Sino-Japanese ties. There is a newfound admiration and respect among the Chinese for their Japanese neighbors, for their stoicism and civility in the face of disaster, as well as compassion for their plight, despite the latent anti-Japanese feelings among many Chinese.

Of course, there were also Chinese who said online the disaster was retribution for atrocities Japanese soldiers committed during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945.

“That's not an earthquake, it's the tremble from the 300,000 ghosts who died in the Nanking Massacre. It's not a tsunami either; it's the roar of the lost souls from northeast China (occupied by Japanese from 1931). It's much less the nuclear radiation, it's the Unit 731's progress in its technological development,” wrote one. Unit 731 was a biological and chemical warfare research unit of the Japanese army in China's northeast that conducted human experiments.

Some remain suspicious of today's Japan, with one post saying of the Japanese nuclear plants: “The truth is they want to store up nuclear bombs.”

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