Beijing on Wednesday said it supported cultural exchanges with Japan, after Chinese academics who took part in a programme partly funded by Tokyo were attacked on social media as “traitors”.
Author Jiang Fangzhou and prominent legal scholar and activist He Weifang are among the group of nearly 200 intellectuals who have been targeted on social media network Weibo in the past few days amid a rise in nationalistic sentiment in China.
They were labelled “traitors” for taking part in an exchange programme organised and funded by the Japan Foundation, an agency overseen by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and partly funded by government subsidies. They travelled to Japan for the programme, which aims to promote cultural exchanges with foreign countries.
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After their trips came to light recently, some social media users have accused the Chinese writers, scholars and journalists of “promoting Japanese propaganda” because they wrote favourably about Japan and criticised China in their works once they returned.
But Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed the criticism, saying cultural exchanges were standard practice and that Beijing would continue to support such programmes with Japan.
“It is common practice in international relations to have all sorts of personnel exchanges between nations,” Wang said at a regular press briefing in Beijing.
“As important close neighbours, China and Japan have frequent personnel exchanges,” he said. “Since the normalisation of Sino-Japanese ties there have been numerous government-supported programmes that have been conducive to developing ties between the two nations.”
He added that the two governments were planning to launch an exchange programme that would see 30,000 teenagers from the two nations going on exchange visits.
“We hope that through consistent, healthy and stable personnel exchanges, we can achieve the goal of deepening understanding, trust and friendship between China and Japan,” Wang said.
China and Japan have long had territorial and historical disputes, and relations are at a delicate point after Beijing accused Tokyo of being a “strategic vassal” of the United States in relation to issues including the South China Sea and Taiwan. Japan has also drawn China’s ire over its plan to release radioactive water from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.
The latest incident comes as nationalism is rising in China, with exchange programmes funded by foreign governments among the targets. Last month, a new funding programme announced by the US embassy in China was described by state media and internet users as a scheme to “recruit traitors” and spies for the American government.
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