ASEAN Meetings: Will China Continue to Further Undermine its Own Trustworthiness?

China’s repeated and unjustified accusations against Japan seem to be increasing the distrust of Beijing among other countries. The Japanese government must continue to thoroughly explain its position based on scientific evidence.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attended a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plus Japan, China and South Korea in Jakarta. Kishida stated that every possible effort has been made to ensure safety, and sought the understanding of participating countries regarding the ocean release of treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.

Since the start of the treated water discharge, the Japanese government and TEPCO have been working with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to measure the concentration of radioactive materials in the surrounding sea areas, and the values are well below international standards. It can be said that the safety of the treated water released into the sea has been scientifically proven.

Kishida also criticized China’s total suspension of imports of Japanese marine products, calling the embargo an “extreme move.”

In response, Chinese Premier Li Qiang condemned the discharge, saying that it would affect the marine environment on a global scale. However, he also mentioned the need to make efforts for “confidence-building” through “sufficient consultation with neighboring countries.”

China’s claims criticizing Japan’s treated water release has not spread in the international community. In fact, no opinions describing Japan’s response as problematic were reportedly expressed at the latest ASEAN leaders’ meeting, or at separate meetings between ASEAN members and Japan, the United States, China and other countries.

Li’s remarks under such circumstances appeared to have been aimed at avoiding China’s isolation by hinting at the possibility of a solution through dialogue with Japan.

In Jakarta, the meeting between Kishida and Li ended up being a brief standing conversation that lasted about 15 minutes. The Japanese government needs to take every opportunity to hold consultations with China and urge Beijing to change its response, which lacks scientific evidence.

At the ASEAN leaders’ meeting, there was a spate of protests against China’s continued hegemonic behavior.

In late August, the Chinese government released a new map of Asia that illustrated almost the entire South China Sea as if it were China’s territorial waters. Also, China’s “nine-dash line” acquired an additional dash that appeared to incorporate Taiwan.

China has not hidden its ambitions for the South China Sea. Indonesia and Vietnam voiced their opposition, saying the latest move was unacceptable. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines, which is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China, said his country will “meet any challenge to our sovereignty … in the South China Sea.”

The nine-dash line has no legal basis. It was explicitly rejected in a 2016 ruling by an arbitral tribunal at The Hague in the Netherlands. It must be said that China’s attempt to further expand its territorial rights from the nine-dash line to a “10-dash line” is selfish behavior that ignores international law.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 8, 2023)