China Keeps Open Diplomatic Lines with Japan amid Seafood Import Ban

Pool photo via AP
Chinese Premier Li Qiang, front left, delivers his remarks as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, front center, and Prime Minster Fumio Kishida, front right, listen during the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations Plus Three Summit in Jakarta on Wednesday.

China has indicated its intention to maintain high-level communication with Japan, with Chinese Premier Li Qiang speaking to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for about 15 minutes on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Jakarta on Wednesday.

According to a Chinese government source, Li was “expecting” to speak with Kishida at the summit. Since assuming the premiership in March, Li has conveyed conciliatory messages to other countries on issues such as economic cooperation, in contrast to Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, and others who have sharply criticized Japan.

According to diplomatic sources in Beijing, the party’s publicity department has instructed domestic social media platform operators to restrict news about treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and related information. It appears that Beijing is concerned anti-Japanese sentiment in China will become unmanageable for the authorities. The move also seems prompted by the hit to the fisheries industry in China as Beijing asserts without scientific basis that the treated water will “pollute the marine environment and ecosystem.”

In late August, videos were posted on a Chinese app slandering people in the Chinese fisheries industry who sell seafood, with such comments as “You sell contaminated products?” and “I would never eat it.”

The Chinese economy has suffered as the real estate industry, which supported the country’s growth, mires in crisis. And the unemployment rate among young people in China has remained troublingly high. If Beijing keeps up its measures against the water release, it could deliver another economic blow, this time to the fisheries and food industry.

On the other hand, if China eases its stance, its government could be criticized domestically for showing weakness. Given the risk, Beijing will likely continue to level accusations against Tokyo over the treated water.