By Arnab Dasgupta
Public diplomacy is more and more an vital a part of trendy diplomatic technique in democracies in addition to authoritarian regimes, as each search to safe their legitimacy amongst their residents. Although an ongoing case, the diplomatic feud that has erupted between the Japanese and Chinese language governments relating to Japan’s discharge of handled wastewater from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor into the Pacific Ocean in August 2023 presents an fascinating research of how each governments have marshalled arguments supporting their stances.
To summarise, the Japanese technique goals to enchantment to scientific authority and accentuates its personal tragic historical past with nuclear energy to persuade a global viewers. However, China’s technique portrays Japan’s resolution as a unilateral resolution that creates a nuclear menace to lives and livelihoods within the area in an try to persuade a primarily home viewers.
On 24 August 2023, Japan commenced the discharge of an preliminary instalment of handled water used to chill down the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor into the Pacific Ocean. The reactor, which had melted down within the wake of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami known as the Nice East Japan Earthquake (Higashi Nihon Daishinsai) in 2011, was being cooled by seawater pumped in from the ocean. The roughly 350 million litres of water used within the course of was then saved in bolstered tanks arrange on-site.
Nevertheless, after practically a decade, it turned clear that there was no extra land for storage. Consequently, the federal government of Japan started a strategy of engagement with the Worldwide Atomic Vitality Company (IAEA) to safe permission to launch the water into the Pacific Ocean after leaching it of most of its dangerous radioactive parts by the Superior Liquid Processing System (ALPS).1 After the inexperienced mild was given by the IAEA in July 2023, the federal government determined to begin the disposal by August.
From the outset, a number of nations within the area expressed their disapproval. To mollify them, Japan invited panels of consultants from nations like South Korea to go to the plant and confirm the veracity of Japan’s claims of getting handled the wastewater to take away a lot of the radioactive parts. It additionally held casual consultations with China and Russia on the difficulty, the place the latter nations proposed that Japan launch the handled water in an aerosolized method, as an alternative of pumping it into the ocean.2 These efforts had some impact: the South Korean authorities formally gave its approval to the wastewater disposal plan, regardless of important opposition from residents.3
Nevertheless, China remained resolute in its opposition to the plan, pre-emptively declaring a ban on Japanese fisheries. Because the launch, China’s opposition to Japan was expressed each by official and unofficial channels, with Chinese language International Ministry spokespersons publicly criticizing Japan at press conferences, and stoking protests and acts of vandalism in opposition to the Japanese Embassy and Japanese colleges in China.
A brand new type of protest additionally attracted consideration – since August 2023, Tokyo reported over 100,000 instances of prank calls being produced from China to varied municipalities and companies across the nation, the place most callers have been recorded utilizing abusive phrases to handle the individual on the Japanese aspect.4 Tokyo in turn escalated its rhetoric against Beijing’s actions, and hinted that it would consider taking China to the World Trade Organisation for what it termed Beijing’s “politically-motivated” attacks.
Both sides have launched spirited diplomatic campaigns for and against the discharge. Japan aggressively promoted its stance and the endorsement its actions from the international community through both traditional and social media channels. On the other hand, China has used international platforms such as the United Nations Security Council to make its case against Japan’s ‘unilateral’ decision.5 It is too early to tell who will ‘win’ in this contest, but it is clear that there are some valuable lessons to be learned from the rhetorical strategies utilised by both sides.
The most prominent rhetorical strategy utilised by Japanese public diplomacy is an appeal to scientific rationality. This is best seen in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ X (formerly Twitter) feed, where a series of posts on the issue display the two prominent prongs of this strategy. The first prong is encapsulated in the hashtag #LetTheScienceTalk, which implicitly paints opposition to Japan’s actions as an unscientific, and therefore unreasonable stance not supported by ‘facts’ and claims for Japan the scientific ‘high ground’ in line with Enlightenment values of the primacy of reason. The second prong of the strategy consists of the publication of tweets containing IAEA factsheets which convey the safety of the wastewater being discharged.6 This is a more classical appeal to authority, whereby the IAEA, as the agency tasked with monitoring nuclear power facilities around the world, is portrayed as an infallible judge.
Another strategy applied by Japanese public diplomacy consists of the accentuation of Japan’s history with nuclear power. This strategy, while not as prominent as the first one, has nevertheless been adopted by several commentators.7 Again there are two inter-related threads – the reclaiming of Japan’s victim status using the example of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the minimization of the downsides of nuclear power. The first is self-explanatory. As Japan has been a victim of nuclear weapons in the past, it would not wilfully expose other publics to the danger of radioactive contamination, as alleged by its opponents.
The second thread emerges in light of widespread anti-discharge protests organised by anti-nuclear power groups around East Asia, which these commentators view as blind opposition to nuclear power’s role as a viable renewable energy source. These commentators argue (not without reason, as argued below) that Chinese and South Korean opposition to the Fukushima discharge stem from an irrational urge to paint nuclear power as inherently unsafe, thus denying countries (including Japan) the right to energy security, especially as all countries attempt to reduce CO2 emissions as part of net-zero goals. They marshal evidence that shows how nuclear power has been responsible for less deaths per capita than coal or oil, and argue from these premises that nuclear power, while not entirely waste-free, represents the best hope for renewable energy transitions until more radical technologies come to fruition.8
These diplomatic strategies make sense only when we consider the prospective audiences for them, which in Japan’s case is the international community. Japan’s public diplomacy on this issue thus has a pronounced external dimension, as can be seen from the effort it has invested in high-quality translations of the IAEA factsheets and promotional videos posted on social media outlets such as You Tube and X. Even Chinese translations are available, which diplomatic personnel in China have been disseminating using Weibo and WeChat.9 The goal here seems to be to isolate criticism of its actions to a few governments, which, as they are traditional opponents anyway, can be safely disregarded as ‘crying wolf’ over a non-issue.
China’s strategies are moving in parallel, but with inverted objectives. The first strategy utilised by China involves, as mentioned above, the instrumentalisation of the nuclear taboo possessed in equal measure by most educated people around the world. As seen in addresses at the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, China has consistently attempted to portray Japan’s actions as a nuclear threat, routinely invoking the harmful effects of radiation on human health and the environment.10 Its rationale for the seafood import ban in July applies the same narrative. This strategy is extremely effective as it generates a categorical claim against which no reasoned, scientific counter-claim can operate; after all, no rational actor can argue that citizens of another polity have a duty to consume contaminated foods tainted by radiation.
Another thread of the Chinese narrative concerns the ‘unilateralism’ of Japan’s actions. This thread primarily appears in statements issued by Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokespersons as well as state-backed media publications.11 While accusations of unilateralism seemingly have to do with the purported lack of formal multilateral discussions Japan should have conducted with other stakeholders around the Pacific Ocean rim, they are deeply connected with traditional themes of Japan’s historical culpability for its military aggression in the region since 1937. In this narrative, Japan always oppresses its neighbours through its unilateral actions, which in the past took the form of war, but now takes the form of releasing hazardous materials into the public commons of the ocean, harming the lives and livelihoods of many.
These narratives, some of which are presented in an international context, are not entirely directed at convincing international audiences. Instead, it must be argued that China’s public diplomacy on this issue has as much to do with convincing its domestic audience that the government of President Xi Jinping is capable of standing up to the traditional oppressor in the region. This is best evidenced by the fact that unlike the Japanese, the Chinese have focused their propaganda efforts primarily at domestic social media outlets such as Weibo and WeChat, where morphed pictures of purported ‘victims’ of radiation, as well as recycled footage of other natural disasters in the region are pressed into service to show the ‘effects’ of Japan’s ‘contamination’ of the seas.12 Even the phone call campaign seems to have been coordinated internally in order to drive up participation in a new form of ‘patriotic resistance’ to the wartime invader by engaging in a form of psychological warfare.13 Therefore, though it welcomes the concerned actions of anti-nuclear groups around the world, China is not primarily addressing them; instead, it aims to stoke anti-Japanese feelings among its own people to achieve a ‘rally around the flag’ effect.
It is clear that both countries have achieved some of their aims as a result of their diplomacy. Public concern is at its peak in countries around the region with several Pacific Island states expressing their reservations regarding the discharge. Protests have been stoked within China, and record numbers of people in Japan have expressed their unfavourable views of China. However, the issue has also created an opportunity to restart China-Japan dialogue, though the terms of the same are as yet unclear. It would be instructive to see how both countries manage the outrage among domestic and international audiences, and what compromises they may have to make to do so.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.
About the author: Dr Arnab Dasgupta is a Research Analyst in the East Asia Centre at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi
Source: This article was published by Manohar Parrikar IDSA
- 1.“Fukushima Daiichi ALPS Treated Water Discharge”, International Atomic Energy Agency.
- 2.Kyodo News, “China and Russia sought vapor release plan for Fukushima water”, The Japan Times, 22 August 2023.
- 3.Kim Tong-Hyung, “South Korea vouches for safety of plans to release Fukushima wastewater but citizens’ fears persist”, Associated Press, 7 July 2023.
- 4.Kiyoshi Takenaka and Martin Quin Pollard, “Japan complains of harassment calls from China over Fukushima water release”, Reuters, 28 August 2023.
- 5.Shi Jingtao, “Fukushima row: China hits out at Japan’s ‘self-serving and irresponsible’ actions at UN Security Council”, South China Morning Post, 26 August 2023.
- 6.For example, see MOFA of Japan’s X channel.
- 7.Anthony M. Hooker, “We have to put low-dose radiation into perspective”, The Japan Occasions, 6 September 2023; Kuni Miyake, “China’s actions on Japan and faith are reduce from the identical material”, The Japan Occasions, 30 August 2023.
- 8.David Fickling, “The Fukushima hysteria has a lesson for the nuclear renaissance”, The Japan Occasions, 24 August 2023.
- 9.For example, see “什麼是ALPS處理水？” (What’s ALPS Handled Water?), Ministry of Financial system, Commerce and Trade.
- 10.See, for instance, “Rejecting Multilateralism Dangers ‘Sliding Again on a Horrible Path Tread Earlier than’, First Committee Hears in Basic Debate”, GA/DIS/3713, United Nations, 6 October 2023.
- 11.“China reiterates agency opposition to Japan’s unilateral resolution to discharge nuclear-contaminated water”, CGTN, 5 October 2023; Tong Zhao, “China’s Disinformation Fuels Anger Over Fukushima Water Launch”, Commentary, Asia-Pacific Management Community, 3 September 2023.
- 12.Zhao, op.cit.
- 13.Miho Tamura and Akiko Yoshinaga, “Crank Callers from China Say They Dialed Japan Only for Kicks or To Kill Time”, The Japan Information by the Yomiuri Shimbun, 31 August 2023.