- Written by Derek Kay
- BBC News, Singapore
Stone-throwing at schools, threats of boycotts, hundreds of hostile phone calls – these are just some of the ways in which the Chinese people have expressed their discontent with Japan in recent weeks.
Scientists largely agree that the impact would be small, but China protested vehemently at all.
The disinformation has only fueled fear and suspicion in China.
A report from a UK-based data analytics company called Logically, which aims to combat disinformation, claims that since January, the Chinese government and state media have been running a coordinated disinformation campaign targeting the release of sewage.
As part of this, China’s mainstream media has been persistently questioning the science behind the nuclear wastewater discharge.
The rhetoric has intensified since the waters were released on 24 August, sparking public outrage.
In recent days, a stone was thrown at a Japanese children’s school in Qingdao, while several eggs were thrown at another school in Shandong within its compound. A stone was also thrown at the Japanese embassy in Beijing this week.
While there were no reports of Japanese citizens being injured in China or companies being affected, Tokyo called on Beijing to ensure the safety of its citizens.
Even the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned its citizens in China to be careful and avoid speaking Japanese loudly in public.
In response to the request, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, “China has always safeguarded the safety, rights and lawful interests of foreigners in China, in accordance with law,” stressing that Beijing has taken into account “the so-called concerns of the Japanese side.” “.
Logical’s data also showed that since the beginning of the year, state-owned media outlets have been running paid ads on Facebook and Instagram, without disclaimers, about the dangers of releasing sewage in multiple countries and in languages, including English, German and Khmer. .
“It is quite clear that this is politically motivated,” Hamsini Hariharan, China expert at Logicale, told the BBC. She added that misleading content from sources linked to the Chinese government exacerbated public anger.
“It’s not about food safety. China itself has seen a lot of food safety scandals. The Chinese narrative has often presented itself as the ‘alternative leader’ in the global system, and that the US and its allies propagate an asymmetric system.” She referred to the world order.
Dozens of posts on Chinese social networking site Weibo showed panicked crowds buying Giant bags of salt Before launching the waters at Fukushima. Some worry that future supplies will be contaminated. Others falsely believed that salt protected them from radiation.
A restaurant has been advertised in Shanghai, in an apparent attempt to cash in on the hysteria Anti-radiation meals. With false claims about reducing skin damage and cell regeneration. A social media user asked sarcastically: “Why should I pay 28 yuan for tomatoes with seasoning?”
Still others online criticize Fukushima itself. They also mocked Japan’s campaign to prove the safety of its seafood, which includes a video of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida eating what he called “delicious” raw fish.
Some have compared notes on which Japanese cosmetics to avoid. A user posted a screenshot of her products back from Shiseido, Japan’s leading cosmetics brand. “Don’t buy, don’t buy, return them all!” She said.
In response, a Shiseido spokesperson said the company does not use seawater in its cosmetics.
Anger also reached the shores of Japan. Local businesses from Tokyo to Fukushima have complained of receiving a wave of abusive phone calls from numbers with Chinese dialing codes since last Thursday.
The Japanese economy is also expected to take a hit. Once the waters cleared, China – Japan’s largest seafood buyer – banned all aquatic imports from the country.
Kishida responded with a rescue package to help Japan’s fish industry, including measures to increase domestic consumption and find new overseas markets.
Tokyo also hinted this week that it might file a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the ban. Japanese media also reported that Kishida had asked Toshihiro Nikai, widely seen as the most pro-China lawmaker in his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, to visit China to solve the problem.
Relations between Beijing and Tokyo have been strained since the Japanese invasion of China in the early 20th century. Recent developments have not helped either, as an assertive Beijing has clashed with US allies in the region, including Japan.
And in 2012, mobs of violent protesters across China targeted Japanese companies over a maritime territorial dispute between the two countries.
This month, Japan angered Beijing when it issued a joint statement with the United States and South Korea, condemning what it called China’s “dangerous and aggressive behavior” in the region.
China’s anger over the Fukushima water spill has continued despite approval from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency.
In July, the International Atomic Energy Agency approved Japan’s plan – which it announced two years ago, to great fanfare across Asia – concluding that it would have minimal impact on people and the environment.
Over the next 30 years, some 1.34 million tons of treated water – enough to fill 500 Olympic swimming pools – will be released into the Pacific. It has accumulated since the 2011 tsunami destroyed the Fukushima plant, causing a nuclear meltdown.
But Beijing called the plan reckless and accused Tokyo of treating the sea like a “private sewer”.
Japanese public opinion is also divided on this issue. Other neighboring countries have also expressed their concerns, including Hong Kong and South Korea, which have imposed bans on seafood from the waters around Fukushima. There were protests in Seoul but the government said it supported the layoffs and sought to debunk the false allegations spread on social media.
Meanwhile, opinions are also divided in the scientific community. Some said the level of radiation was too low to pose any danger, but others said more studies needed to be done.
Additional reporting by Kelly Ng