Japan Party Leader Postpones Trip to China over Fukushima Tensions

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shakes hands with Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi at the Diet after the passage of the fiscal 2023 budget in March.

Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party, said Saturday that the leader of the party, Natsuo Yamaguchi, postponed his planned trip to China. Yamaguchi was scheduled to visit the country from Monday to Wednesday. According to sources, the Chinese side said Saturday that “given the current state of Sino-Japanese relations, the timing is not appropriate.”

China strongly protests the release of treated water from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that began on Thursday and it is believed China decided it would be difficult to host Yamaguchi.

The postponement of the visit demonstrates the magnitude of China’s opposition to the release of treated water and means that Yamaguchi’s wish to hold comprehensive talks with the Chinese side, including issues other than the water release, would not be realized.

Yamaguchi was to bring a personal letter from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addressed to Chinese President Xi Jinping and meet with key figures in the Xi administration to gain understanding about the treated water release, among other matters.

“The treated water issue is not all about Japan-China relations,” Yamaguchi told reporters Thursday after meeting with Kishida at the Prime Minister’s Office.

When Beijing contacted Komeito about no longer hosting Yamaguchi, China stated it would prioritized maintaining friendly exchanges with the party. Komeito issued a statement on Saturday that it “wishes to reschedule a visit at a more appropriate time.”

When deciding the start date of the treated water release, the government partly took Yamaguchi’s China visit into consideration. “How China will proceed can be predicted by who in the Xi administration official meets with Yamaguchi,” a senior Foreign Ministry official had said.

However, the visit was cancelled suddenly. “Criticism of Japan has been stronger than expected in China, and the Chinese side likely judged that it was too early to set up talks,” a senior government official said.