> China > PAC 36 – The Solidarity of an Infra-State China

PAC 36 – The Solidarity of an Infra-State China The Chinese Aid given to Japan after the March 11, 2011 Earthquake

By Jenna Rimasson

Translation: Melissa Okabe

Passage au crible n°36

On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 9 on the Richter scale, the epicenter of which was located in the Pacific Ocean. These tremors had immediately prompted a tsunami which devastated the east coast of the archipelago region, where the country’s nuclear power stations are concentrated. Therefore, a nuclear catastrophe is added to this humanitarian crisis, making it a concern of the entire world. The Chinese state, a close neighbor to Japan, quickly reacted to the Japanese tragedy. It sent rescue teams, emergency equipment for the survivors, and even fuel, while organizing blood donations in its universities and certain public spaces. Finally, its government evacuated 3000 citizens from disaster zones. However, this situation leads China to especially question its own management of nuclear energy.

Historical background
Theoretical framework

Historical background

In 1281, the Kamikaze typhoon (divine wind) destroyed Kubilai Khan and his Mongolian fleet, which attempted to invade the chain of Japanese islands. This natural element guaranteed the independence of the country from China, a situation preserved until World War II.

China, on the contrary, experienced two major defeats against Japan, in 1895 and in 1931. The latter ended with the Japanese occupation of Manchuria until 1945, the year in which the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and of Hiroshima forced Tokyo to surrender.

These historic episodes always arouse diplomatic tension, such as Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto sanctuary in Tokyo, or even the Chinese territorial claims over the Diaoyu Islands. However, the earthquake which occurred in the Chinese province of Szechuan, on May 12, 2008, allowed for a Sino-Japanese rapprochement. Indeed, Peking accepted humanitarian aid offered by the Japanese rescue teams.

Regarding the nuclear file in its entirety let us recall that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is part of the nuclear powers; its first nuclear test was carried out on October, 16, 1964 in Lop Nor, in the Xinjiang province. In 1984, China became a member of the lAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and on March 9, 1992, after years of refusal, Peking finally ratified the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty).

Theoretical framework

1. Emergency Aid. During natural disasters, states but also NGOs – in particular those who possess an international dimension – provide financial and material aid to disaster-stricken regions. Besides this display of compassion, this assistance increases the visibility of the donor and allows him to impose his ethical values on the global scene.

2. Re-appropriation of diplomatic action by informal means. Civil Society Actors by-pass traditional institutions to implement a foreign policy which distinguishes itself from that of States. This phenomenon illustrates a revolution of capacities, evoked by the American political analyst, James Rosenau, when he invites us to revalue their role, taking micro-macro mixing into consideration.


Chinese-Japanese relations actually find themselves in a difficult phase, due to military tensions in the China Sea and the economic crisis heavily felt in Japan. Often paralyzed, traditional diplomatic institutions stop real dialogue between Peking and Tokyo. Yet, the earthquakes in Szechuan, and that which largely destroyed the Hondo Island, were the occasions of the greatest solidarity between these two peoples. In fact, the Chinese remember the aid offered by their neighbors and at present, mobilize themselves to go to their rescue. Micro-social interaction, at the level of the individual, establishes itself, making the erosion of the stato-national frame apparent. In this context of crisis and emergency, Central Administrations of the State and PCC are by-passed to the benefit of local levels – sister cities to Japanese municipalities are at present making their contributions – or still, civil society with the intervention of associations, and national NGO’s, such as the Red Cross for example. Therefore, one sees the necessity of rapid action favors a redistribution of authority to profit sub-national and transnational entities. The cooperative dynamic which establishes itself obliges political powers to bend their strategy; the diplomatic play of these new actors is forcing them to modify their initial positions. Often criticized for their lack of autonomy, Chinese NGOs at the moment use their privileged governmental connections to bend the decision of the latter. These organizations impose themselves on political institutions thanks to their more appropriate routine of action and the fact that the source of their legitimacy comes from below. As time goes by, they become indispensable interlocutors at the very moment when the Chinese State attempts to maintain its monopolies despite controversy. This operation appears more well-to-do as the assistance offered to inhabitants of the archipelago agrees with the Chinese conception of human rights, oriented more toward the economic and social, rather than political, dimension. It is emphasized, on the other hand, that the crisis affecting Japan also benefits the Sino-Taiwanese relations, with the implementation of increased cooperation in sanitary risk prevention and emergency aid.

The impact on Chinese politics is also shown through the State Administration’s emphasis on Nuclear Security and the greater role granted to the Ministry of the Environment. Previously maintained at the level of a simple agency, this henceforth has a more important budget. However, the increasing influence of the experts in the decision-making of Zhongnanhai constitutes the most considerable element because knowledge became a legitimizing tool likely to modify the hierarchy of the priorities on the governmental agenda. Peking, which at the moment manages the construction of 25 nuclear power stations, 13 already being in service, has just halted the decision to set up new infrastructures and to substantially strengthen safety standards, systems of alert / measure of the radioactivity.

The natural elements and nuclear technology strain the Sino-Japanese relationships as much as questions of national security and public health. They impose more transparency on Chinese leaders and also a bigger consideration of the public opinion. Nevertheless, the energy needs of China remind the government of priorities of another order. Indeed, in 2007, Peking and the French company Areva signed the biggest contract ever concluded in the nuclear domain – at 8 billion euro – to increase its’ energy production and acquire new technology: the famous reactors of the EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) generation.
The operation of the atomic energy remains – as in numerous countries – a subject of secret defense and consequently difficult to deliver to the democratic debate. However, the partnerships which form between public spheres in this strategic sector reveal a certain decline of the State to the benefit of the economic entities.


Areva, « Dossier de presse. Areva en Chine », nov. 2007.
Fossier Astrid, « Présentation générale de la société civile en Chine », Monde chinois, (19), aut. 2009, pp.9-14.
Niquet Valérie, « Du Tremblement de terre du Sichuan aux Jeux olympiques : la Chine face aux défis politique de l’année 2008 », Asie Vision, (8), sept. 2008, en ligne, www.ifri.org/downloads/Asie_Visions_8_Niquet.pdf, consulté le 10 juillet 2010.
Xinhuawang, « La Chine accorde avantage d’aide au Japon », 17 mars 2011, En ligne, http://french.news.cn/chine/ 2011-03/17/c_13782500.htm, consulté le 25 mars 2011.
Xinhuanet, « 山西省红十字会开展日本地震后寻人工作 », [La Croix Rouge de la province du Shanxi déploie ses activités de recherche des rescapés japonais après le séisme], le 17 mars 2011, En ligne, http://www.sx.xinhuanet.com/jryw/2011-03/17/content_22301497.htm, consulté le 25 mars 2011.
The Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China, « 日本发生特大地震后中国多部委表示向日 提供援助 » [Après le séisme, les différents ministères chinois offrent leur assistance au Japon], le 16 mars 2011, En ligne, http://www.gov.cn/jrzg/2011-03/16/content_1825560.htm, consulté le 25 mars 2011.