China Anti-Japanese Narrative Amplifies Concerns over Fukushima Cooling Water

news 30-Aug-2023 Asia

China's Anti-Japanese Narrative Amplifies Concerns over Fukushima Cooling Water

China labels the release of filtered cooling water from the Fukushima nuclear disaster site in Japan as an unpredictable health risk. However, international experts differ in their opinion. Despite contradicting views, an anti-Japanese narrative dominates in China.

Located in East Beijing, the covered Xiaoguan Market offers a variety of goods, including fresh produce, meat, and an array of seafood stands. From salmon to live crabs and wriggling shrimp in white boxes, most of the seafood comes from Chinese waters. However, concerns have risen among traders since Japan first released filtered cooling water into the ocean from the Fukushima nuclear site last Thursday. One vendor explains, "People are now afraid of seafood. The behavior of the Japanese is inhumane. It's destroying the whole world."

The situation is not favorable for business either, as the vendor notes, "While people are initially buying more seafood than usual to freeze, they are avoiding buying anything afterward. This will greatly impact my business."

Deemed safe by the IAEA

Customers, indeed, feel uncertain. A 52-year-old woman declares that she will no longer eat fish from Japan, and Japanese restaurants are now off-limits. She worries about the situation.

An angry retiree claims that Japan's actions threaten people's lives and health because Fukushima's contaminated seawater flows to other regions, severely affecting neighboring countries as well.

International scientists hold a different perspective. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) classifies the radioactive concentration of the diluted Fukushima cooling water as negligible. However, this reasoning and the reassurances from independent experts are almost unheard of in China.

An anti-Japanese narrative prevails

China does not allow open discussion, thus omitting the fact that China also releases cooling water from its nuclear plants into the ocean. The exact amount remains unclear, as the Chinese authorities decline to comment when queried by the IAEA.

In China, due to strict censorship, the public discourse is solely governed by the government's anti-Japanese narrative. Shu Jueting, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, justifies the complete ban on fish and seafood imports from Japan since Thursday. Economically, experts believe that both countries can easily endure this measure since high-quality Japanese products such as automobiles, machinery, and technology remain unaffected.

This move is more about political gain for the Chinese leadership, explains Chong Ja-Ian, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore. "China sees Japan as part of a U.S. alliance aiming to encircle and contain China, as the Chinese leadership formulates it. Japan is now being punished for expressing a more critical stance toward China than Beijing desires."

Deep-seated mistrust

At the Xiaoguan Market, antipathy towards Japan is prevalent. One woman openly admits her dislike for the Japanese, while a retiree vows to boycott Japan.

Given the complex history between the two countries, anti-Japanese sentiments are easily triggered in China. Political scientist Chong explains that deep-seated mistrust exists. The lack of sufficient information about Fukushima exacerbates the uncertainty and skepticism. "This, combined with the mistrust toward Japan, fuels the amplification of fears—even if one does not fully trust their own government."

These fears have even led to panic buying, reminiscent of the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. Many people in China are now rushing to purchase salt, causing supermarket shelves to empty. China's largest salt producer has urged people to behave rationally, emphasizing that only ten percent of table salt in China comes from the sea. Yet, the rumor persists in China that certain types of salt can provide protection against radioactive radiation.

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