Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reaffirmed his nation’s longstanding policy on the controlled release of treated radioactive wastewater during the 43rd ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sept. 6. Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Li Qiang softened his rhetoric on the issue, signaling a potential thaw in relations between the two nations. Japan began releasing treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima power plant on Aug. 24.
The shift in Beijing’s tone over the release of the treated wastewater comes amid growing concern in Japan over the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) actions, prompting experts to advocate for a more action-oriented diplomatic approach to reduce dependency on China. Mr. Kishida was the second leader to address the summit, following Indonesian Prime Minister Joko Widodo.
Discussing Japan’s plan to discharge ALPS-treated wastewater, Mr. Kishida emphasized that Japan’s commitment to transparency, scientific rigor, and ongoing collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remains unchanged. He called for continued understanding and support from the international community.
The Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) is a rigorous process that removes radioactive materials from contaminated water. Japan has adopted a four-stage protocol—processing, measurement, dilution, and discharge—for storing and treating Fukushima’s stored water. This aerial picture shows storage tanks used for storing treated water at TEPCO’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, on Aug. 24, 2023.
At the ASEAN Plus Three meeting, featuring China, Japan, and South Korea, Mr. Kishida clarified that releasing ALPS-treated water into the ocean aligns with international standards and safety protocols. He cited a comprehensive IAEA report released last month, stating that the radiological impact on humans and the environment would be negligible.
Despite the growing international consensus, Mr. Kishida said that Beijing had unilaterally imposed a total ban on the import of Japanese aquatic products. He urged China to rely on scientific evidence and disseminate accurate information.
Mr. Li, in his subsequent remarks, maintained China’s position but shifted his language, referring to the discharged water as “nuclear-contaminated” rather than using more inflammatory terms. As the most outspoken critic of Japan’s plan to release processed nuclear water, China previously called the move “extremely selfish and irresponsible” and accused Japan of “passing an open wound onto the future generations of humanity.”
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris also addressed the summit on Sept. 7, endorsing Japan’s plan and warning against the spread of misinformation. Her comments reinforced Washington’s stance against Beijing’s attempts to sway opinion among ASEAN member nations.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and other ASEAN leaders refrained from commenting on the issue at the meeting.
Kishida and Li Talk on Sidelines
On Sept. 7, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno confirmed in a press briefing that Mr. Kishida briefly interacted with the Chinese premier before the ASEAN Plus Three meeting. During the brief encounter, Mr. Kishida reiterated Japan’s position on the safe disposal of treated radioactive wastewater and urged Beijing to lift its ban on Japanese seafood imports.
While Mr. Matsuno did not divulge the details of Mr. Li’s response, he emphasized that Japan would continue its established policies of open communication and demand responsible action from China. Mr. Matsuno also expressed a commitment to fostering increased dialogue on mutual concerns.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted in a separate press conference that Mr. Li had clarified China’s stance on Japan’s nuclear water disposal during his interactions with Mr. Kishida. The spokesperson expressed hope for improving Sino-Japanese relations, especially given the upcoming 45th anniversary of the peace and friendship treaty between the two nations.
However, Mr. Li’s official transcript did not include these remarks, making it unclear whether the spokesperson was commenting independently or summarizing Mr. Li’s views. Japanese media outlet NHK speculates that these were Mr. Li’s words.
During the summit, Mr. Li also emphasized the role of dialogue in dispelling misunderstandings and building trust, comments that appear aimed at countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, and especially Japan, which finds itself increasingly at odds with the Chinese regime.
Anti-Japanese Sentiment Softening
Within China, there has been a noticeable softening in anti-Japanese sentiment. Authorities recently intervened in two incidents: Young nationalists were detained and warned for protesting outside the Japanese Embassy, and a restaurant in Dalian was ordered to remove a sign barring Japanese patrons.
Commenting on these developments, Tang Jingyuan, a Chinese affairs analyst and host of “Foresight,” said on his Sept. 7 show that Japan appears to be shifting from a defensive to a more assertive diplomatic stance while the CCP is seemingly moderating its approach.
However, some critics argue that Tokyo needs to do more, particularly in dealing with Beijing’s ban on Japanese aquatic products.
Masahiko Hosokawa, a professor at Meisei University, offered his insights about Tokyo’s diplomatic efforts in his column for Sankei News. Although he agrees with the importance of providing scientific evidence to lift China’s ban, he questions if such measures are sufficient. Mr. Hosokawa proposes that understanding the underlying motives behind the CCP’s actions is crucial before taking further steps.
According to Mr. Hosokawa, the CCP’s ban is more about economic coercion than environmental concerns. He points to Japan’s restrictions on semiconductor exports to China as a likely trigger, suggesting that the treated wastewater issue is being weaponized for diplomatic leverage. Mr. Hosokawa warns that a passive response from Tokyo could lead to additional economic sanctions from Beijing in other sectors.
To counteract this, Mr. Hosokawa emphasizes the importance of a multifaceted diplomatic approach and suggests that Japan align with G7 countries to oppose the CCP’s actions collectively.