China’s Blanket Seafood Import Ban: Aim for Reasonable Solution Based on Scientific Grounds

China’s irrational claims are unacceptable, but if Japan-China relations deteriorate, it will only harm both sides’ national interests. It is necessary to call on China for a solution based on scientific evidence.

The Chinese government’s total suspension of imports of Japanese marine products over the release of treated water stored at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. into the ocean has become a flash point between Japan and China.

On Aug. 28, the Chinese Embassy in Japan claimed on its website that no other countries participate in the monitoring of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and criticized the reliability of TEPCO’s inspection data as questionable.

In response, on Sept. 1, the Japanese government countered that the IAEA’s monitoring activities included the participation of analytical institutions from countries including the United States, France and South Korea. Tokyo also emphasized that Chinese experts participated in the IAEA’s review of the data released by TEPCO about the treated water.

China’s attempt to raise concerns through misinformation is extremely injudicious. It is quite natural that the Japanese government responded based on objective facts.

However, there have been some subtle changes in China’s response. The rash of annoying phone calls to the Fukushima prefectural government and elsewhere immediately after the release of the treated water is reportedly subsiding.

The Global Times, an affiliate of the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, wrote an editorial on Aug. 30 that argued that the indignation of Chinese society is not directed at the Japanese people. This may be an example of the changes in China’s response.

China probably does not want the anti-Japanese movement to heat up within the country, as it could lead to demonstrations and criticism that might turn to be directed at the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping. As more and more countries show their understanding of Japan’s release of treated water into the sea, China should understand that it will be isolated in the international community if it continues to take measures against Japan’s treated water discharge.

Some within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have suggested that Japan should file a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over China’s blanket Japanese seafood import ban.

However, WTO standards allow member states to take provisional precautionary measures in cases where there is insufficient scientific evidence. As China has described the total embargo as a “temporary measure,” it is not necessarily guaranteed that Japan’s claims will be accepted if it files the complaint.

As long as China claims that its total suspension is a temporary step, the Chinese side has a responsibility to present concrete conditions for lifting the import ban.

If China says that the Japanese data is unreliable, one idea would be to urge the participation of Chinese experts in monitoring activities by the IAEA and directly confirm the data. Then, a reasonable solution based on scientific grounds should be obtained.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is in Indonesia to attend an international conference. A meeting between Kishida and Chinese Premier Li Qiang is being coordinated there. This opportunity must be utilized to break the impasse over the issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 6, 2023)