August 1, 2006｜China
Research Fellow, Consulate-General of Japan in Shenyang
Since June  I have attended two parties for the setting up of the branches of two Japanese newspaper companies in Shenyang. As I am sure you are aware from other reports already made, the Asahi Shimbun Company and the Yomiuri Shimbun opened branches in Shenyang, in Liaoning Province in China’s Northeast, on 15 March and 1 April, respectively.
According to the Chinese Foreign Affairs Division, the establishing of branches in Shenyang of foreign media organs is the first since the establishment of New China. After two Japanese media companies opened branches in quick succession, the ROK media has pressed ahead with preparing to set up branches and dispatch staff. China’s Northeast, being a region where it is expected that economic interaction with Japan will become tightly connected, will henceforth be an important region in Northeast Asia. Furthermore there are consulate-generals – of Japan, the US, the ROK, Russia and the DPRK – in the same small area, and sometimes the joke is told that if you add China, then “the Six-Party Talks can be held in Shenyang.”
At the Asahi and Yomiuri parties, Liu Jianchao, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson and acting-manager of a newspaper company, appeared at the press conference, and he stated that “we hope that, through the Japanese media, still more reports from China’s Northeast region will be transmitted to Japanese society.”
Certainly the opportunities for topics appearing in both newspapers, related to Northeast China after the Shenyang branches’ set-up have increased. To coincide with the set-up of the branches, the Asahi Shimbun ran a special feature on Shenyang in its 14 March edition1. The Yomiuri Shimbun had a special feature with an in-focus look at five cities in the three Northeastern provinces, in its 9 May edition. Subsequently too, it reported on such things as issues related to “Manchuria”, the condition of Shenyang which is growing economically, and topics connected to the policy for the revitalization of the Northeast old industrial base. And apparently unexpected feedback was received from Japan, mainly from people who had once lived in the area.
As one of the small number of Japanese people living in Shenyang, I’m naturally pleased. Since I took up this position, friends and relations have repeatedly said to me “Now where is Shenyang again? Oh yeah, it used to be called ‘Mukden’, didn’t it?” More than half a century after the former “Manchuria” period, I would definitely like Japanese people to know about the greatly changing Northeast of China of today.
To date, the share of coverage in Japan’s media for the problems of China’s Northeast region has been low. The images that “Shenyang” and “Northeast” call to mind are probably of the former “Manchukuo”, the 2002 incident at the Japanese Consulate-General in Shenyang, ailing state-owned enterprises and mass unemployment. The number of Japanese may not be very large for whom a bright image comes to mind. One probable cause of this is that Japanese reporters have not been resident there for over half-a-century.
In the “Manchukuo” period, it is said that the number of Japanese living in the Northeast region was 1,550,000 at its maximum. I was told this story by Koichi Furuya, the head of the Asahi Shimbun Shenyang branch: “In December of 1931, the year of the Mukden Incident [or Manchurian Incident], there were no fewer than 38 Asahi Shimbun reporters in ‘Manchuria’. In addition, in November 1931 alone, in China including ‘Manchuria’, they put out no less than 50 special editions.”
I would like the Asahi and Yomiuri reporters, as the first foreign reporters resident in Shenyang in half a century, to make sure to report on today’s Northeast China, and in addition report on what this area, once called “Manchukuo”, was in the past. At the end of June this year, in Huludao City in Liaoning Province, a ceremony was held to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the repatriation of Japanese people from the continent. Further, this year marks the 75th year since the Mukden Incident flared up, and the centenary of the founding of the South Manchuria Railway Company.
Conversely, I hope for things from China’s Northeast region.
I would like them to definitely press on with “opening to the outside world” in the area of information exchange. By employing the media more skillfully, and also by beefing up the open information service aimed at the general public, the opportunities for the Northeast region itself must surely expand. I feel it is necessary to first plan to raise the region’s profile and image, and create a system to make it easy for investors to get their hands on the economic information they need. In my own personal daily experience, there are times when I sigh and wonder if things will ever change, if the provision of information and the treatment of visitors to the government organs of the Northeast region will become more flexible, and if a service mentality will come into existence (or at least be skilled at disseminating information). (In particular, they are cool towards those not writing down “direct investment”!)
At present, although China, especially Northeast China, is making declarations of “opening up to the outside world” and “a transformation in the organs of government”, in actuality the slogans and the situation on the ground are miles apart. There is even talk like: “The leadership level’s slogans don’t filter down to the grass-roots players; and the procedures for realizing them are often a great deal of hard work” (according to a certain Japanese company). There are also many cases – even just getting hold of one piece of economic data – where it is rather difficult to do so smoothly. It is said that for the external release of materials and data, the checking and approval of a superior is necessary, and there are repeated long waits and refusals. Even when putting out feelers to request a hearing regarding the state of the progress of the policy for the revitalization of the Northeast old industrial base, there are no small number of instances where government departments and state-owned enterprises have shown reluctance. Although it is probably unfair to make comparisons, in the southern Chinese coastal area where I once resided I never got such a stuffy impression.
The abovementioned Mr. Furuya also got the same impression. With the fact that the governments of the Northeast have not, over half a century, come into contact with foreign media, and also that they are not used to the set of values of Western journalism, at the present time they are unable to make the best use of foreign media. Afraid of negative reporting, they don’t have confidence that the positive is sufficiently large. (Are they trying to avoid rocking the boat?) When gathering information in the Northeast, it apparently takes quite a lot of hard work.
The Central Government’s granting of permission (opening to the outside world) for the establishment of branches in Shenyang of the foreign media, is precisely as stated by Liu Jianchao at the opening parties. This is because they have seized the opportunity to communicate to Japanese society such things as the progress in the transformation of the Northeast, the improvement in the investment environment, and the state of play in the policy of the revitalization of the Northeast old industrial base. To put it clearly, for all the Northeast’s being an investment destination for Japanese enterprises, if we don’t include Dalian it’s profile is still low. If the foreign media make, say, 10 reports, and a couple of those are negative, I would like to see a turn-around in perception, in that, conversely, there are 8 opportunities for good publicity.
Further, at the same time as putting effort into the transmission of information, I would like to see the proactive creating of opportunities aimed at communication with Japanese enterprises. I think a space or contact point is needed where one can talk informally and frankly with local government officials regarding the problems encountered by, and the current state of affairs of, enterprises that have set up shop in China. The quality of the support for enterprises setting up in China will have a considerable influence on future investment trends.
“Japanese companies are overly cautious. It takes time to reach a decision on investment and valuable opportunities have been missed”-this appears to have become the semi-accepted view in the Northeast. If you talk to government officials, you will hear the reproachful refrain of “Japanese companies only make inspections, and recently haven’t made any investments readily”. Yet at the same time, the phrases “Japanese companies are cautious until to the decision to invest is taken, but once they do invest, there is the plus that they won’t easily withdraw” and “the overall number of companies coming in is low, but famous big companies have come” etc., are trying hard to battle it out, but are losing the verbal war.
Certainly, in Shenyang, in the last few years, ROK and Western investment has been noticeable. Just looking at the amounts of direct foreign investment accounted for in Liaoning Province as a whole, Japan is in third or fourth position behind Hong Kong, the ROK, and on occasion, the US. The expectations of the three Northeast provinces towards Japan are great, but as for the degree to which those expectations are met, at the present point in time the actual situation is that investment into the Northeast is not progressing. However, that the investment from Japan is not proceeding as expected is not that the problems are only on the Japanese side, but also we have the fact that there is still room for improvement in the Northeast’s upgrading of its investment environment infrastructure and the support for businesses setting up there. For there to be “reciprocal love”, there must be a deepening of mutual communication.
In the future, in the area of advancing the economic cooperation between China’s Northeast and Japan, it is necessary for both sides to communicate adequately, and transmit information adequately. I think a contact point or system is needed which will enable frank and substantive exchanges on ways to tackle the solving of divergences in perception and the problems experienced by companies.
China’s Northeast, currently, with the aim of pushing the policy for the revitalization of the old industrial base, is batting for all it’s worth in its activities to attract investment, by, among other things, sending delegations all over the world. Within this its expectations towards Japan are very great. As one part of the strategy for the attraction of investment, I would definitely like them to make efforts in an “opening up to the outside world” in the area of information exchange. What is the state of progress in the policy for the revitalization of the Northeast old industrial base? What kind of special benefit is there in investing in the Northeast, as compared with the Pearl River Delta and the Yangtze Delta? Where do the opportunities lie for Japanese companies? How will companies setting up there solve any problems they have? I definitely want to hear, not slogans, but presentations, which clearly get to the point in explaining those things which foreign investors want to know.
[Translated by ERINA]
|1 http://www.asahi.com/world/china/sinyo/01.html [in Japanese]|