Opposition in China to Fukushima water release could cause trade riff

Chinese officials are raising the prospect of trade action against Japan after a week of criticism in state media of a reported decision by Japan to release wastewater from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean.

On 9 April, The People’s Daily –the official paper of the Chinese Communist Party – reported more than one million tons of contaminated cooling water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant would be released into the ocean rather than being treated and stored on land. The report was based on comments from environmental and other civil groups in Japan. 

The People’s Daily report triggered a wave of commentary on government-censored Chinese social media, with suggestions the entire Pacific will be polluted by the tritium-polluted water if and when Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) does discharge it.

Asked if Japan’s actions would harm trade with China, Ministry of Commerce spokesperson Gao Feng said on Friday, 16 April that China would “protect the safety of the Chinese consumers,” and singled out the country’s seafood and farm produce as areas of concern. Gao complained that Japan didn’t consult with neighboring states on the decision, though that is an accusation often leveled at China in its island-building in the South China Sea.

China Fishery Association Seafood Trading Committee Deputy Chief Yuan Dao Liang expressed less concern over the release.

“Japan isn’t a major source of seafood imports for China,” Yuan said. “Imported seafood eaten by ordinary Chinese people comes mostly from Africa, America, and Southeast Asia.”

Yuan said China’s imports from Japan are limited to saury and shellfish, but Japanese restaurant chains and retailers have a growing presence in China, which has embraced Japanese-style dining – and inputs supplied by Japanese seafood-sourcing firms. 

The dispute could further disrupt Chinese seafood supply chains already disordered by the COVID-19 pandemic and a political row with Australia. China has seen seafood supply tighten in part due to heightened customs controls and delays at ports prompted by official claims of COVID-19 entering China on seafood packaging. Seafood prices rose by an average 8.2 percent in the first three months of 2021, according to Chinese official data compiled by the agriculture ministry.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian this week told reporters Japan should prove the water’s harmlessness by using it internally for cooking and washing.

“They should prove that seafood products aren’t harmed by nuclear pollution,” Zhao said.

The outcry comes as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga prepares to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden in a summit scheduled to begin Friday, 16 April. Biden and Suga are expected to discuss efforts to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative, according to CNBC.

Photo courtesy of Santiherllor/Shutterstock


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