China Seizes on Water Release as Diplomatic Card; Facts Suppressed Online While Rumors Allowed to Flourish

Ichiro Ohara / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Security officers surround a passerby in front of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing on Monday.

BEIJING — The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping has tacitly approved posts on social media sites in China that include criticisms of the Japanese government and calls for boycotts of Japanese products.

According to a source familiar with the inner workings of the Chinese government, the Xi administration is likely trying to use Japan’s release of treated water as a diplomatic card against Japan. It is believed that Beijing hopes to seize the opportunity of the water release to exert pressure on Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government, which has been strengthening security cooperation with the United States and South Korea.

Chinese official media have continued to publish reports opposing the water release into the ocean since Japan began the discharge.

The Publicity Department of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee appears to be leading the campaign.

Posts and accounts that try to explain that the water release is based on scientific evidence have been deleted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. It is believed that deleting them is meant to prevent Tokyo’s arguments based on scientific evidence, which are contrary to Beijing’s claims, from spreading in Chinese society.

However, reactions so far have not developed into violent nationwide anti-Japanese demonstrations like those seen in 2012, when Japan nationalized the Senkaku Islands. In recent years, many citizens in China have been dissatisfied with the current situation in which the Chinese economy is slowing down and youth unemployment remains high. There are reports that Chinese public security authorities have banned large-scale demonstrations due to concern that demonstrations for ostensibly anti-Japanese reasons might turn into criticisms of the Xi administration.