Upset about Fukushima, Chinese netizens bash Japan, make nuisance calls


Some Hong Kong news outlets point out that Chinese reactors’ wastewater is more contaminated.

Upset about Fukushima, Chinese netizens bash Japan, make nuisance calls

Hong Kong fishermen protest outside the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong on Aug. 22, 2023, a day after Tokyo announced its plan to release treated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant into the Pacific Ocean.

Chinese social media was awash with anti-Japanese sentiment on Monday after Beijing criticized the release of wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the surrounding ocean, sparking fears of tainted seafood and environmental damage.

“Get off the planet, Japanese devils!” user @OurBigBrotherMao wrote.

“Folks, you know what to do next, right?” @winealleyidiot wrote. “There are 1.4 billion people.”

Japanese businesses and public venues from concert halls to aquariums also were targeted by large numbers of nuisance callers from China, who posted video of themselves to social media making the calls.

The moves prompted Japan’s top regional diplomat Hiroyuki Namazu to call on the Chinese Embassy to calm its citizens down. Many of the posts seemed to come from the country’s army of national “little pink” commentators.

“We strongly urge the Chinese government to take appropriate measures, such as calling on its citizens to act calmly, and to take all possible measures to ensure the safety of Japanese residents in China and Japanese diplomatic missions in China,” he said in a statement.

The owners of four restaurants and pastry shops in Fukushima told Agence France-Presse that he had received about 1,000 calls on Friday, mostly from China, prompting his businesses to unplug their phones.

Fukushima city Mayor Hiroshi Kohata said on Saturday that city hall had gotten 200 similar calls in two days, and that local schools, restaurants and hotels were also targeted.

‘Very irrational’

The nuisance calls weren’t a good idea, said Li Ning, a Japan-based Chinese citizen.

“I don’t know what they’re thinking – there are so many people calling,” Li said, adding that some had called hospitals. “Hospitals are there to save lives and heal the sick, and these actions could affect the treatment of patients, as well as causing huge trouble to companies and restaurants.”

“A lot of people really are very irrational,” he said.

Online comments seen by Radio Free Asia on Monday read: “All we ordinary folk can do is boycott all products imported from Japan,” and, “As long as we’re united enough, we can force little Japan to stop discharging polluted water.”

Last week, news of the release of Fukushima wastewater – used to cool the reactor cores that melted down following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami – prompted the panic-buying of salt across China last week, similar to scenes after the 2011 crisis.

International experts said the radiation levels in the treated water, which contains tritium, aren’t high enough to be of concern to human health.

“China is now engaging in wolf-warrior diplomacy, and its strategy on Japan is driven by political needs,” a senior Hong Kong-based engineer Li Guangde told Radio Free Asia, referring to the aggressive approach used by some Chinese diplomats. 

“It’s using the Fukushima incident to promote anti-Japanese nationalism, and to do that it has to have a policy of ignoring the science.”

Yang Haiying, a professor at Japan’s Shizuoka University, agreed, saying Beijing is likely trying to distract its citizens from the burst property bubble and tanking economy.

“They can play the anti-Japanese card at any time, and aim the gun of nationalism at Japan at any time,” he said. “They know very well that this treated nuclear wastewater has no impact on biology – they are playing this card from a highly political perspective.”

Li cited data from the International Atomic Energy Agency as showing that levels of tritium in the Fukushima wastewater are low, and acceptable for discharge into the ocean.

“People don’t have the correct scientific information, so all kinds of panic have arisen – the result of the unfortunate policy of ignoring the people, which is very damaging,” he said.

Higher levels in China

A number of Japanese and Hong Kong media have reported that tritium levels in wastewater emitted by China’s nuclear power stations is far higher than those of the Fukushima waste. Li said this should rather spark concerns over the safety of Chinese seafood.

Taiwan’s government reported “negligible” effects on its waters from the Fukushima waste outflows.

Zhao Tong, a senior researcher at the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “Japan’s nuclear wastewater discharge standards are in line with the safety thresholds laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency … so, it won’t have any obvious impact on public safety or marine ecosystems.”

Some media reports in Hong Kong did point out that the tritium levels in the Fukushima wastewater are actually lower than the wastewater emitted by Chinese nuclear power facilities just along the coast from Hong Kong.

But most people in mainland China don’t have access to more balanced reporting on the topic, according to Wang.

“It is impossible for average Chinese people to see this kind of reporting,” he said, adding that nationalistic anger is often a channel for anger at their own government, which doesn’t brook public dissent or protest. 

“There will be a kind of panic among the people, a kind of rebellious mentality,” Wang said. “Unfortunately, this is now being vented in the direction of Japanese citizens and shopkeepers.”

“It’s … just like the anti-Japanese demonstrations in 2012.”

Tensions between China and Japan sparked waves of major protests in cities across China in that year, as Japanese and Chinese boats gathered in the waters around a disputed island chain in the East China Sea.

Anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan

Wang Dai, vice chairman of the political group “Front for a Democratic China,” said the nuisance calls seem to be deepening anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan, too.

“The Japanese TV stations, the Asahi Shimbun, the Sankei Shimbun and other major newspapers are all focusing on the large number of nuisance calls from China,” Wang said. “Japanese people who know I’m Chinese are asking me why the Chinese are doing this, and what is going on.”

“This will make a lot of people feel that Japan should entirely rid itself of any dependence on China in future, including economically,” he said.

Chinese Communist Party newspaper the People’s Daily on Monday reported that Tokyo “has ignored the public interest and unilaterally launched the discharge of nuclear-contaminated water into the sea for its own self-interest,” citing a number of regional protests against the move.

“All parties strongly urge the Japanese government to correct its wrong decision, immediately stop the discharge of nuclear-contaminated water into the sea … so as to avoid … unpredictable damage and hazards to people’s health and well-being,” the paper said.

Meanwhile, a Chinese owner of a Japanese-themed business in the southwestern province of Guizhou posted a video of himself destroying the decor, according to the X, formerly Twitter, account “Mr. Li is not your teacher.”

“The owner, a millennial surnamed Fu, said the discharge of nuclear-contaminated water in Japan would affect seafood and related industries,” the account said in a tweet posted Aug. 25.

“So he smashed [his restaurant] up out of nationalistic sentiment, and said he didn’t feel bad about it, and that it would be turned into a Chinese restaurant in future,” it said.

The Japanese Embassy in Beijing warned its citizens not to speak loudly in Japanese, AFP said.

State media appeared to be helping to whip up nationalistic sentiment in China, with a poll posted to the official Sina Weibo account of state news agency Xinhua on Aug. 24, the day authorities began discharging treated wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, asking readers to choose among three responses to the move.

Option 1 was “resolutely oppose, strongly condemn!”, option 2 was “a disaster for future generations, a disaster for all mankind!” while option 3 was “Remember Aug. 24, 2023: Japan will enter the historical hall of shame!”

By Monday, the poll had disappeared, although references to the topic still appeared in a list of “hot searches” on Weibo.

Nuclear physicist Li Jianmang, who claimed to have worked at the China Institute of Atomic Energy for eight years, posted on Weibo that the discharge of treated radioactive wastewater “isn’t worth worrying about.”

He said the discharges would be closely monitored by experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency, including some from China. Li’s post was also later deleted.

Translated with additional reporting by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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