What is happening?
If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? In China, the answer is the Japanese Embassy. As Hideo Taru, Japan’s ambassador to China, pointed out, the Embassy receives around 15,000 nuisance calls a day. The motivation behind these harassment calls is the fact that in August, Japan started to release the first portion of over one million metric tons of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the sea. Even though the initial data is promising, and the water should not be dangerous for people’s health, the release further worsened the already deteriorating Japan-China relations.
What is the broader picture?
October 23 marked the 45th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People’s Republic of China going into effect. On this occasion, approximately 100 experts from both countries attended a two-day forum on China-Japan relations which took place in Beijing prior to the anniversary. The experts issued a joint statement in which they urged China and Japan to work together to ensure peace and security in the region and to address concerns regarding the release of the treated radioactive water.
China called the Fukushima water release “extremely selfish” and banned imports of all Japanese seafood products. Many places in Japan as well as Japanese facilities in China then started to face a wave of harassing calls. The Japanese Embassy in China receives about 15,000 such calls on a daily basis, as stated by Ambassador Taru at the forum. He called on both sides to work to regain mutual trust and rationality through dialogue as it has become truly difficult to build a “constructive and stable” relationship. Chinese Ambassador to Japan Wu Jianghao (吳江浩) also stressed the need to manage mutual confrontations and to stabilize relations between the two countries.
Why does it matter?
The water release is not the only issue of the current Sino-Japanese relations. Another issue is a growing number of Japanese nationals getting arrested in China on charges of espionage. Since 2014, at least 17 Japanese nationals have been arrested under China’s vague espionage laws. As a result, Japanese companies are increasingly worried about sending their staff to China, not to mention that Japanese nationals themselves are afraid to go there. There have also been incidents of stone-throwing at a Japanese school and embassy, after which the Japanese government had “strongly” requested Beijing to urge its citizens to act “calmly and responsibly.” This year, Japanese coast guards have already reported more than 20 Chinese incursions into Japanese territorial waters in the area of the disputed Senkaku Islands. These issues, combined with the ongoing Fukushima water release, make the chances for improving the Japan-China relations very limited.
The China–Russia relations, on the contrary, have been deepening, as Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine renders it steadily more dependent on China. In the second half of October, Russia announced that it would join China in banning the imports of Japanese seafood. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Fukushima water release has been going as planned while its impact on the environment, marine life and human health should be negligible, but since the whole process is supposed to take decades, it seems that the telephones at the Japanese Embassy in China will keep ringing for a while.