Japan Needs to ‘Brace for Long Standoff’ with China over Fukushima Treated Water

Ichiro Ohara / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Police officers keep watch in front of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing on Monday.

Anti-Japan actions in China following the release of treated water from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the ocean are drawing increasing concerns from Japan’s government.

China’s government has been letting this one-sided harassment toward Japan go unchecked, worsening the situation.

“Japan has been asking China to have experts carefully exchange scientific opinions” about the release of treated water, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said to reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday. “But while waiting for this to happen, harassment is taking place, from crank calls made to Japanese facilities to stones thrown at the Japanese Embassy and Japanese schools in China.”

Tokyo believes that Beijing’s claims that ignore scientific grounds have been fanning the flames of fear over the release of treated water.

There are many posts on video-sharing platforms in China such as Red (Xiaohongshu) and TikTok urging people to make phone calls to Japanese government agencies, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc., which is decommissioning the nuclear plant, and other institutions to demand an end to the release of “contaminated water.”

In one such video, a person is shown apparently making a call from the inland Chinese city of Chongqing to Japan’s House of Councillors, and once connected this person says in Chinese, “Why is Japan releasing nuclear-tainted water into the ocean?” The video has received more than 80,000 likes.

Since the discharge of treated water started Thursday, the Chiyoda Ward Office in Tokyo has received more than 1,000 phone calls from numbers starting with the country code for China, 86. Many of the calls were of abusive voices speaking foreign languages, with some also in broken Japanese asking why Japan is discharging contaminated water.

Many posts on social media in China also call for boycotting Japanese products. Cosmetics are the main target of the boycott. Posts listing the names of makers and products to boycott have gone viral.

Harassing acts against Japanese schools have been confirmed in Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao in Shandong Province and Suzhou in Jiangsu Province.

“Concerns in China over treated water will not disappear anytime soon, and the Chinese government might not be able to do anything,” said a Japanese senior Foreign Ministry official. “Japan needs to brace for a long standoff.”

Considering that anti-Japan protests spread in China after Japan put the Senkaku Islands under state control in 2012, the Japanese government is strongly concerned that the current situation could develop similarly.

Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Masataka Okano summoned Chinese Ambassador to Japan Wu Jianghao on Monday, demanding that China make efforts to prevent the situation from worsening. Wu insisted, however, that Japan, by starting the discharge of “nuclear-contaminated water” into the ocean, had invited the strong resentment of China and the international community.

Given the protests in China, Japan’s Foreign Ministry is asking Japanese citizens traveling to and residing in China to act carefully, such as by not speaking Japanese in an unnecessarily loud voice outside.

Japan has aimed to improve its relationship with China ahead of October’s 45th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China. That strategy now requires some adjustments.

Kishida had sought to hold talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang on the sidelines of an international conference in early September, but some believe that the meeting is unlikely to happen under the current circumstances.

On Monday, Kishida emphasized to reporters in Tokyo that Japan would cooperate with the international community and make efforts to communicate with China, citing the fact that Western nations were among the countries that are appreciative of Japan’s transparency about the discharge of treated water.

The prime minister’s focus now is to rouse international public opinion toward Japan’s side.