Chinese help Japan economy recover

Updated: 2014-08-25 07:28

By Jin Baisong(China Daily)

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An estimated 1.27 million foreigners visited Japan last month as tourists or businesspeople, a record for a single month, with the number of Chinese visitors increasing twofold year-on-year to 281,200, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. And the number of Chinese tourists to Japan in the first six months of the year increased to 1.01 million, a year-on-year growth of more than 88 percent.

The increase in the number of Chinese tourists to Japan started in September 2013, and has continued since. The current boom is in contrast to the drastic decline in tourist numbers at the height of the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, especially during the 2012-13 travel seasons.

Last year, Japan received 10.4 million foreign visitors, meeting the government target of 10 million for the first time, thanks to a weaker yen and easier visa requirements for visitors from Southeast Asian countries.

The increase in the number of Chinese travelers to Japan reflects the growth in non-governmental exchanges between the two countries. After the Sino-Japanese dispute intensified in 2012, many Chinese refused to buy Japanese products or visit Japan. As a result, the number of visas issued by the Japanese government to Chinese people halved compared with the same period in 2011.

Broadly speaking, there are three reasons why more Chinese are visiting Japan now. First, the depreciation of the yen and the appreciation of the yuan have reduced the cost of visiting Japan. And since Japan has lowered some service prices to attract more foreign visitors, Chinese tourists who would have visited some Southeast Asian countries or South Korea now see Japan as a viable alternative.

Second, Japan has mature tourism and service industries compared with even some Western countries. Also, visiting Japan is more convenient for Chinese tourists.

And third, Chinese want to visit Japan irrespective of the two countries' political relationship, because they believe that neighbors should better understand each other, and such understanding can be facilitated through more people-to-people exchanges.

Moreover, sales of Japanese products, including cars (joint-venture as well as imported brands) is picking up in China. By easing the boycott of Japanese goods, Chinese people are actually helping the Japanese economy revive. It is predicted that the 2 million Chinese expected to visit Japan this year will generate 600 billion yen ($5.84 billion) in revenue for the Japanese economy. In addition, Chinese companies' and individual consumers' renewed interest in Japanese goods could increase Japanese exports to $167 billion this year, only $27 billion shy of the peak in 2011. This should be music to the ears of businesspeople in Japan, whose GDP growth in the second quarter was still minus 6.8 percent.

However, the flow of Japanese visitors to China has maintained its declining trend. National Bureau of Statistics figures show that the number of Japanese visitors to China peaked in 2010 at 3.8 million. It, however, has been declining since then, touching 2.87 million last year, partly because of the depreciating yen and appreciating yuan.

China has never stirred up trouble in the region. Instead, it has always tried to develop friendly ties with other countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. Even when Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated, the Chinese government didn't try to influence civil behavior against Japan.

Therefore, we hope the positive developments on the tourism and economic fronts - thanks to Chinese tourists and consumers - will prompt the Japanese government and media to respond with similar goodwill gestures. If they do not, they could once again force non-governmental exchanges between China and Japan to deteriorate.

The author is deputy director of the department of Chinese trade studies at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, affiliated to the Ministry of Commerce.

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