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Beijing Restricts Japanese Seafood, Escalating Tensions with Tokyo 

China has tightened checks on Japanese seafood, escalating diplomatic tensions with its neighbor over Tokyo’s plan to release treated wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean.

The General Administration of Customs in China began inspecting seafood imports from Japan for radiation earlier this month, Japanese media reported Wednesday.

This follows the agency’s July 7 announcement that extended a ban on seafood products from 10 Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, because of radiation concerns. China is the biggest buyer of Japan’s seafood exports.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a briefing on Thursday that Beijing had tightened the restrictions because “the Chinese government puts people first.”

She continued, “Our job is to be responsible for the health of our people and the marine environment. Our opposition to Japan’s ocean discharge plan is based on facts and reason; so are the measures that we have decided to take.”

FILE - An aerial view shows the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following a strong earthquake, in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on March 17, 2022. (Kyodo/via Reuters)
FILE – An aerial view shows the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following a strong earthquake, in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on March 17, 2022. (Kyodo/via Reuters)

The restrictions came as Japan prepares to discharge the treated waters from its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. There is no confirmed date for the release at the plant, which was damaged in the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Japan dismissed Chinese objections to its plan, calling on Beijing to remove restrictions on Japanese seafood.

Japan “has long urged Chinese authorities to quickly remove import restrictions on Japanese food products based on scientific evidence,” said a spokesperson for the Japanese Embassy in Washington in an email to VOA’s Korean Service on Wednesday.

Tokyo will continue “to make a concerted effort to appeal to the Chinese authorities through every possible opportunity” and “explain the conclusion of the IAEA report to the international community with a high level of transparency,” said the spokesperson, referring to the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency.

The decision to start releasing the water, originally set for some time in August, came after the IAEA said in a report presented to Tokyo earlier this month that the release meets its safety standards.

Some experts see Beijing’s restrictions on seafood imports from Japan as a move to instill doubts about the safety of treated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant that Tokyo said would be released once it addressed “reputational damages” associated with the process.

‘China doesn’t trust Japan’

Andrew Yeo, the SK-Korea Foundation chair in Korea Studies at Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies, said, “China doesn’t trust Japan or the IAEA’s report regarding Fukushima waters.”

Yeo continued, “The inspections on seafood imports [are] intended to continue sowing doubts on the IAEA’s findings and undermine Japan’s claim about the safety of its seafood and fish exports.”

The European Union announced last week that it would lift restrictions on seafood imports from Japan imposed over 12 years ago, Euronews reported. European Council President Charles Michel said the decision was based on scientific evidence presented by the IAEA.

The IAEA report concluded the release of 1.3 million metric tons of the treated water from the Fukushima plant would be safe and have negligible radiological impact on people and the environment.

The water has been filtered through the Advanced Liquid Processing System to remove most radioactive contamination except tritium, according to IAEA.

However, an article by China’s state-run English-language newspaper, the China Daily, on Monday said Japan’s plans to release the treated water makes seafood consumers and restaurant owners anxious about Japanese imports.

Daniel Sneider, a lecturer in international policy and East Asian studies at Stanford University, said Beijing wants “to put pressure on Japan and to play into Korean narratives promoted by the opposition party in [South] Korea.”

He said the main goal of China’s inspections of Japanese seafood imports “seems to be to feed similar fears” among people in China as exist among consumers in South Korea “with the rather obvious aim of undermining progress in repairing Korea-Japan relations.”

On July 7, South Korea officially endorsed the Japanese decision to release the treated water upon the IAEA’s approval of the discharge. Opposition lawmakers have been against the decision.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi arrived in Seoul on July 8 after his visit to Tokyo and met with opposition lawmakers explaining the IAEA’s approval based on “scientific” research.

Hundreds of South Koreans marched in Seoul protesting the discharge plans during Grossi’s three-day visit in Seoul.

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been improving since South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol reached out to Tokyo in March, resulting in two summits in March and May, the first for the two countries in 12 years.

Ties between the two U.S. allies had been frayed over a historical dispute stemming from the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Washington, Seoul and Tokyo are planning to hold a summit in August, Yoon’s office said Thursday. At the G7 summit in Hiroshima in May, President Joe Biden had invited Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for a meeting in Washington this summer.

Source : VOA News

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