Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2023.09.15

China’s actions on Japan and religion are cut from the same cloth

Beijing wants to secure state interests, whether it's denying scientific logic or religious freedom.

the Japan Times on Aug 30, 2023


Most Japanese people must be surprised and taken aback by the recent news from Beijing.

China not only imposed a total ban on Japanese marine products starting on Aug. 24, but the following day it also announced additional measures to prohibit domestic operators from processing, preparing and selling such products.

The International Atomic Energy Agency found Japan's discharge of treated water via the advanced liquid processing system, or ALPS, from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the ocean to be "consistent with relevant international safety standards," and even neighboring South Korea did not call on Japan to halt the discharge.

Nevertheless, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said: "In disregard of the strong criticism and opposition from the international community, the Japanese government unilaterally started the release of the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. China firmly opposes and strongly condemns it.”

There is, however, no "strong criticism and opposition from the international community." The discharged water is not "nuclear-contaminated," but has been safely treated with the latest scientific methods to remove radioactive substances, with the exception of tritium, which is also found in nature.

“Let's call Tokyo at random," a young Chinese man reportedly said as he poked at a bowl of Chinese rice with one hand and called a number selected at random on a map app on his smartphone with the other. "Moshi moshi," the man said, and then, speaking Chinese, asked why the nuclear contaminated water was being discharged into the sea. Hundreds of such videos are circulating on Chinese social media.

That's not all. Japanese diplomatic missions in China have been on the receiving end of protest letters, brick fragments, raw eggs, etc., while there is no sign that the Chinese authorities have cracked down on these attacks. What is even more surprising is the harassment unleashed against several Japanese schools in China, which have been subjected to bomb threats, stoning and egging, with children the target of abuse on their way to school, and other unreasonable attacks that one would not expect in any civilized country.

Of course, such behavior is nothing new in China, where systematic attacks against specific groups serve the state’s interests. Look no further than the situation in the region formally known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, home to the Uyghurs, a people with their own language and religion, Islam. In Xinjiang, the autonomy and freedom of this group have been drastically reduced by the Chinese Communist Party.

In April, President Xi Jinping visited Urumqi in Xinjiang and instructed local party leaders to "promote the 'Sinicization' of Islam and effectively control all kinds of illegal religious activities," as well as assimilate Uyghurs into Chinese society.

Xi’s instructions show yet again that religious faith is being trampled upon in China, as is scientific logic in the case of the Fukushima water release. Why does Beijing not respect science and religion, both indispensable to human beings, and, on the contrary, tries to politicize them?

A detailed reading of the Chinese announcement on the Fukushima water release reveals only one-sided accusations against Japan, with no scientific basis whatsoever.

China also has nuclear power plants and, like Japan, discharges treated water containing tritium. Whether an accident is involved or not, as far as tritium is concerned, the treatment method is basically the same. If Japan's treated water is unacceptable, then so should China's be, too.

China also continues to suppress religious activities, especially those of ethnic minorities. Particularly surprising is the reference to the Sinicization of Islam. The essence of monotheism is that of a covenant between humans and God. Islam and, with it, Christianity are born out of this covenant, are fundamentally international and universal and are not subordinated to any nation or political party. Simply put, it is impossible to transform Islam into following a specific national orientation in the 21st century.

China is currently in an economic slump. This is due to a combination of four factors — declining exports, a sluggish real estate market, lack of resilience in consumer spending and a massive debt problem. Even after the pandemic, the Chinese economy has not revived easily. It is not hard to imagine a sense of stagnation is setting in among the Chinese people.

The problem is socio-political rather than economic. Even China, which has enjoyed three decades of steady economic growth, has finally begun to slow down. Its population is no longer growing either. Therefore, the economic growth, increases in production, expansion of consumption and employment rises of the past cannot be expected. It is not surprising that many are feeling anxious and distrustful of the government and, of course, some of the hardest hit are ethnic minorities. Perhaps this is precisely why Xi had to visit Xinjiang again, this time only one year after his last visit.

The only logical explanation for the unscientific accusations against Japan and the Sinicization policy directed at Uyghurs is China’s resumption of a political campaign for state security, wanted by Xi. In particular, stoking anti-Japanese sentiment is intended to divert the public's growing dissatisfaction with the Communist Party’s mismanagement of the post-COVID-19 situation.

If this is the case, Japan need not give in to the Chinese government’s campaign, which unabashedly politicizes science and religion to ensure the Communist Party’s survival.

If China does not buy Japanese seafood, Japanese people should buy it to support their fellow fishers. Fishers from countries that ban imports of Japanese marine products have no reason to operate in fishing grounds around Japan. If we give in to China's unreasonable political pressure, it will be a historical disaster.