Japan Warns Citizens in China to Speak Quietly Amid Wastewater Backlash

Japan’s government warned its citizens to take precautions when visiting China, after reports of harassment in response to Tokyo’s discharge of treated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.

(Bloomberg) — Japan’s government warned its citizens to take precautions when visiting China, after reports of harassment in response to Tokyo’s discharge of treated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said citizens visiting or living in China should avoid speaking Japanese in a loud voice, and pay close attention to their surroundings if going to the embassy or consulates. In a statement on its website, the ministry urged people to stay away from any demonstrations against the Fukushima water release and avoid taking pictures of such events.

The ministry also advised those traveling to China to leave an itinerary and contact numbers with their friends, family and employers at home.  

Read: Why Japan Is Releasing Fukushima Water Into the Sea: QuickTake

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters Monday that incidents of harassment were regrettable and worrying. The government has urged China to encourage its citizens to behave calmly, he added. 

Japan last week conducted the first of a long-planned series of releases of treated wastewater from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, which was wrecked by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said the plan is safe and in line with global standards.

While China conducts similar releases from its own nuclear plants, it has criticized Japan over the discharges, which have provoked fury and unease among the Chinese public. Stones were thrown at a Japanese school in Qingdao last week and another Japanese school elsewhere in China was pelted with eggs, TV Asahi reported, citing diplomatic sources.

Groups and individuals in Japan who are not connected with the water release have been harassed about it by phone over the past few days, Japan’s foreign ministry said in its statement. Local government offices and restaurants in Fukushima received hundreds of such calls, the Sankei newspaper and other media reported. 

Rising tensions over the issue threaten economic ties between Japan and its biggest trading partner. Chinese authorities last week banned Japanese seafood imports, dealing a blow to Japan’s fishing industry. China generally accounts for half the country’s seafood exports.

Posts about boycotting Japanese goods more generally spread across Chinese social media. A post on Weibo, one of the country’s largest social media platforms, listed Japanese brands and alternatives — while attracting more than 25,000 “likes” since August 24. Stocks in a number of China-reliant companies fell Monday, even as the broader market gained.

China-Dependent Japan Stocks Plunge on Boycott Over Wastewater

A hoped-for recovery in Chinese tourism to Japan following the lifting of a ban on group tours may also be at risk. Hashtags debating travel to Japan on Weibo saw tens of millions of views over the weekend. 

Several media outlets including Sina news and Guancha.cn ran surveys on Weibo asking whether Chinese citizens would continue to travel to Japan. Approximately 120,000 respondents to Sina’s survey said there would be a sharp decline in Chinese travel to Japan compared with about 50,000 who said travel would not be impacted or would only fall temporarily.

Even though the number of Chinese tourists has lagged, foreign visitors to Japan topped 2 million for a second consecutive month in July, recovering to about 78% of pre-pandemic levels, according to Japan’s National Tourism Organization. The strong reading raises the likelihood that spending by visitors, spurred by the weaker yen, would continue to support an economic recovery. 

Opportunities for a diplomatic rapprochement look limited for the moment. China last week called off a planned visit by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s junior coalition party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi. Kishida himself will visit Jakarta next week for an Asean summit, but it is unclear whether he would hold talks with Chinese premier Li Qiang, who is also expected to attend. 

–With assistance from Shoko Oda, Shirley Zhao, Lucille Liu and Takashi Hirokawa.

(Updates with details throughout. A previous version corrected the spelling of Qingdao.)

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