Scientific Exchanges: A Chill in China-Japan Academic Relations Dennis Normile TOKYO—A diplomatic tiff stemming from a collision last month between a Chinese trawler and two Japanese coast guard vessels has chilled academic exchange between the two countries. Top Chinese scientists have canceled appearances at meetings in Japan in recent days, and negotiations between two universities over educational exchange are frozen. Japanese scientists say they have not received an official explanation from Chinese counterparts, and no one knows how long the chill will last.
The first sign that the incident would affect scientific ties came when a delegation of 15 or so researchers headed by Chinese Academy of Sciences President Lu Yongxiang pulled out of a bilateral meeting on sustainability scheduled for 29 September. "There was no explanation; we just suddenly got a fax canceling their attendance," says engineer Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, former president of the University of Tokyo and one of the meeting organizers. It was to be the fourth in a series of annual meetings held alternately in China and Japan that bring together top researchers from the two countries. This year's discussions were to focus on low-carbon technologies.
Also affected was the annual Science and Technology in Society Forum held 3 to 5 October in Kyoto. Several Chinese delegates canceled at the last minute, including Chen Zhu, China's health minister and a leading cancer researcher. And Science has learned that an official of a major Japanese university went to China last week to sign a cooperation agreement with a Chinese university, but his counterparts were suddenly unavailable. The Japanese official asked that the universities not be identified to avoid harming delicate negotiations to resolve the impasse.
The 7 September collision that apparently prompted the academic chill occurred near what Japan calls the Senkaku Islands, about 185 kilometers northeast of Taiwan and 170 kilometers north of Ishigaki Island, part of Japan's Okinawa Prefecture. Japan has controlled the uninhabited islands since the late 1800s, but Taiwan and China claim them as part of Taiwan and call them the Diaoyu Islands. After the collision, Japan held the captain for possible prosecution under domestic law, infuriating China. After an escalating war of words, Japan released the captain on 24 September. China has demanded that Japan apologize and pay compensation; Japan has demanded compensation for damage to its boats.
To underline its displeasure, China has canceled a number of governmental visits in other spheres and withdrew permission for a 1000-strong Japanese youth group to visit the Shanghai Expo. Chinese customs officials also reportedly blocked exports of rare earth minerals to Japanese firms, although China denied cutting off supplies.
Scientists on both sides are hoping for a quick return to normality. "S&T collaboration between the scientific communities from the two countries should be promoted," says a top Chinese government scientist. "We're scientists," says Yoshikawa. "We don't want these tensions to affect cooperation."