Chinese urge boycotts to punish Japan for Fukushima nuclear water release


Chinese customers are calling for boycotts of Japanese products from high-end skin-care creams to everyday household goods in retaliation for the release of treated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The effort is shaping up to be the largest campaign of state-supported nationalist outrage against Japan in more than a decade and comes at a time of widening divisions between China and U.S.-aligned countries in the region.

Customers started returning Japanese-made cosmetics and goods over the weekend after lists of products to be boycotted were circulated widely online. Manufacturers were forced to declare products “radiation-free” after some buyers brought handheld Geiger counters to test products for radioactivity. Stores have run out of table salt because some fear that contaminated waters will make it impossible to produce more sea salt.

Japan to release water from Fukushima nuclear plant starting Aug. 24

The flare-up of anti-Japanese anger — and its careful management by state media — fits with Beijing’s long-running efforts to mobilize consumers and take advantage of its huge market to punish other countries for actions it dislikes.

That approach has been honed and amplified under Xi Jinping, China’s leader, who has played upon nationalist sentiments and fears of a dangerous world beyond China’s borders to justify his personal power grab.

For many decades, China’s leaders relied equally on economic performance and nationalism to legitimize Chinese Communist Party rule. But the country’s mounting economic head winds mean Xi now needs to rely more on “anti-foreign” nationalist expression, said Suisheng Zhao, a scholar at the University of Denver.

Yasuhiro Matsuda, a professor of international politics at the University of Tokyo, said China believes that “scapegoating” Japan is a useful distraction from its own problems. But if demonstrations escalate into violence, he said, that could “seriously damage China’s image.”

As China’s economy slows, the buck stops with leader Xi Jinping

A ban on Japanese seafood on Friday was followed by a campaign of nuisance calls to Japanese businesses and government departments. On Chinese short-video platforms Kuaishou and Douyin, dozens of users uploaded videos of themselves giving whoever answered the phone in Japan an earful about the dangers of releasing the water.

Many said they were retaliating for supposed Japanese calls to the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo, as reported by the People’s Daily, the official Chinese Communist Party newspaper.

Two uploaders of videos contacted by The Washington Post said they had acted after seeing social media posts about the alleged health impacts of the wastewater’s release.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), after conducting a two-year review, concluded last month that Japan’s plan meets international safety standards and would have “negligible” radiological impact on people and the environment.

But this ruling has been widely dismissed in China, where state media have continued to whip up fear.

“I’ll never buy another Japanese product as long as I live,” said one social media user, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Japan must pay a price if it insists on doing its own thing.”

The last such large-scale display of outrage was in 2012, when the then governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, moved to nationalize the disputed East China Sea islands, known in Japan as the Senkakus and as Diaoyu in China.

At that time, officials encouraged anti-Japanese sentiment and allowed crowds to protest outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing. It was only after Japanese people were attacked in the street and Honda and Nissan cars were vandalized that state media started calling for “rational” displays of patriotism.

The most recent outbursts fit with a two-decade pattern of the Chinese Communist Party picking moments to tap into deep streams of anti-Japanese sentiment as a way of bolstering popular support.

“Whatever else is going on in Chinese politics, you can always play the Japan card, and that is still true,” said Richard McGregor, senior fellow for East Asia at the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.

The current round of state-sanctioned protest takes place against the backdrop of a deteriorating relationship between Tokyo and Beijing. China is strongly opposed to the kind of defense and trade cooperation among the United States, South Korea and Japan that was on display this month at a first-of-its-kind Camp David summit.

“In some respects, Fukushima is a sideshow to the bigger geopolitical shifts that are happening,” McGregor said.

Biden declares ‘new era’ of partnership with South Korea and Japan

China isn’t alone in questioning the decision to discharge over 30,000 tons of treated nuclear wastewater into the Pacific Ocean by March, in the first phase of a process expected to take more than 30 years. Environmental groups and residents in Japan and South Korea have protested what they say is an unnecessary risk. But in each case, these concerns were pitted against the views of those who accept the IAEA assessment.

In a gesture of support for Japan, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and his staff had seafood for lunch Monday to show that it was safe, the presidential office said.

But in China, publicly defending Japan — or even explaining the science behind the IAEA’s assessment — is a surefire way to get censored or at minimum face fierce attacks from nationalists.

Liu Su, a technology blogger, was forced to issue an apology and delete an article that defended the IAEA’s process after Shanghai authorities warned him of “inappropriate speech.”

Experts on Chinese politics often consider these bouts of nationalist fervor both a useful tool for the Communist Party to strengthen its legitimacy and a potential risk if the outpouring of emotion spirals out of control.

Under Xi, China’s leader since 2012, the same year that the island dispute with Japan flared, strident nationalism has become more prominent in public diplomacy and popular culture. Analysts dubbed this newly aggressive tone “wolf warrior” diplomacy after a series of gory action blockbusters in which a former Chinese soldier defends compatriots from foreign threats.

Since 2018, Beijing has used these pressure tactics more frequently, even when the dispute isn’t about traditionally core issues such as sovereignty, according to a study released last year by Mercator Institute for China Studies, a German think tank.

Controversy over Japan’s decision and potential real consumer concerns mean the backlash doesn’t quite fit the trend of economic coercion, but parts of Beijing’s response, such as bans on fresh food, are similar and “strategically smart” because they are hard to contest at the World Trade Organization, said Aya Adachi, an author of the report.

Yu reported from Hong Kong and Yang reported from Denmark.


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *