This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
As Japan releases the second batch of treated radioactive water from Fukushima, Chinese state media and social media users have lashed out at the Japanese press for inflating Chinese tourist numbers during the Golden Week holidays, a move seen as Beijing’s way to exert political pressure on Japan.
Japanese media outlets, including The Japan Times, reported on Oct. 5 that Japanese airlines’ flights from China to Japan are almost fully booked during an eight-day holiday that began Friday, highlighting that Japan tops the list of popular overseas destinations for Chinese travelers during the holiday period. On the same day, Tokyo began releasing a second batch of treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
In response, the nationalistic Global Times and Chinese self-media – bloggers and citizen journalists – not only deplored Chinese tourists visiting Japan, but they also blasted the Japanese media for deliberately hyping up the travel trend and, in their view, tarnishing the image of Chinese people.
“They also forcefully connected this with the attitude of the Chinese people toward Japan’s dumping of nuclear-contaminated wastewater into the sea, deliberately creating misleading arguments such as that Chinese people are ‘forgetful or do not care about Japan’s dumping,’” reads a Global Times commentary on Wednesday.
The commentary also named and shamed Japan’s Fuji TV and the Mainichi Shimbun in a bid to expose the propaganda war [with inflation of Japan-bound Chinese tourists figures], as well as the Japanese government’s irresponsibility. Chinese tourist arrivals reached 364,100 in August this year, or more than a third of the 1 million arrivals recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic in August 2019, according to the latest available official data from Japan.
Blogger Xuanji Shijie, or mystic horizon, lamented: “Japan will immediately start its second round of nuclear sewage discharge on October 5. Don’t these tourists know our country’s attitude towards Japan’s discharge of radioactive water? Can you have some backbone?”
To be sure, the U.N.’s atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency has said that the planned discharge of wastewater meets relevant international safety standards and would have a “negligible” radiological impact on people and the environment.
Experts warned that leveraging on issues ranging from nuclear wastewater to criticism of Japanese tourism, is one of Beijing’s tactics to politically oppress Japan. However, this means that China could have cornered itself should it want to change its foreign policy towards Japan.
China’s independent political scholar Chen Daoyin pointed out that the Chinese people’s grievances against Japan have been used to rationalize China’s economic pressures exerted on the country. Since Japan started releasing the treated Fukushima water into the Pacific Ocean in August, Beijing has banned imports of Japanese seafood.
“The nuclear wastewater incident should not be viewed in isolation, but is part of a system of economic coercion by China, using it to force Japan to bow to Beijing’s demands, mainly in its Indo-Pacific strategy,” Chen said. “Japan can play a leading role and moderate its stance towards China, which will continue to exert pressure as long as there are opportunities.”
Separately, Sung Kuo-chen, a researcher at the Institute of International Relations at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, said Chinese people’s anti-Japanese sentiments were fanned by the official Chinese position. Such a negative atmosphere would increase the difficulty to turn relations around when Beijing should have a change of heart.
“The Chinese government is facing two very contradictory situations. If it wants to ease relations with Japan, will the public agree? The Chinese Communist Party also refuses to restrain itself on the military front, even though it claims to want to improve Sino-Japanese relations diplomatically. It cannot have its cake and eat it too; it is a self-contradictory foreign policy.”
With the United States, South Korea and Japan allying strongly, Sung said the conflicting Sino-Japanese relationship will be hard to turn around.