China’s Measures Run Counter to Tenets of Free Trade

China has continued to tighten import restrictions on marine products from Japan. This is an unreasonable measure lacking scientific basis. The Japanese government must strongly urge Beijing to withdraw the restrictions.

The customs authorities of China have reportedly begun inspecting all marine products imported from Japan for radioactive materials since early July.

Beijing has tightened import regulations since the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., suspending food imports from 10 prefectures, including Fukushima. For imports of marine products from prefectures other than those 10, inspections had previously been conducted on extracted samples. But it is believed that inspections have now been extended to the entire quantity of all such imports.

Since the inspections take at least about two weeks to complete, refrigerated marine products that do not last long will effectively no longer be allowed to be exported from Japan. In one case, a Japanese exporter reportedly had to discard all perishable products such as tuna, resulting in a loss of more than ¥100 million.

China opposes Japan’s plan to discharge into the ocean from around this summer the treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, but it is clearly unreasonable to tighten regulations even before the discharge. Beijing is inevitably being viewed as intentionally taking advantage of the situation for political gain.

Of Japan’s exports of marine products last year, about 20% were destined for China, so the impact of Beijing’s import restrictions is significant. The Japanese government needs to make a broad appeal to the international community about the lack of scientific basis for China’s regulations.

As for the discharge of the treated water into the ocean, the International Atomic Energy Agency has compiled a report stating it “would have a negligible radiological impact to people and the environment.” The European Union has completely removed import restrictions on Japanese food products.

With regard to China’s unilateral measures, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno naturally pointed out that should blanket radiation inspections be introduced, this would run counter to the international trend.

Beijing’s attitude of turning a deaf ear to the Japanese government’s scientifically based explanations and unnecessarily inflaming anxiety will only worsen the feelings toward China of the Japanese people, including those in the area affected by the nuclear accident.

In addition, China has begun export controls on gallium and germanium, which are materials used in advanced semiconductors. China has a high global share of these materials. These export restrictions could hinder semiconductor production in places including Japan.

This move is regarded as a countermeasure to Japan, the United States and Europe tightening export controls on advanced technologies due to security concerns.

China is engaging in economic coercion, putting pressure on countries through opaque trade restrictions. This also runs counter to the tenets of free trade, which China claims to respect, and will only lead to Beijing losing the trust of the international community.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 3, 2023)