A government-backed disinformation campaign targeting Japan’s release of treated radioactive water may be responsible for stoking anger in China, reports suggest.
Busting the campaign: Logically, a U.K.-based data analysis firm that tackles misinformation, claims that the Chinese government and state media have been running a coordinated disinformation campaign about the discharge from Fukushima. The effort, which allegedly began earlier this year, includes running paid ads on Facebook and Instagram that talk about purported risks of the release in multiple languages, the BBC reported.
Hamsini Hariharan, a China expert with Logically, told the BBC it is “quite evident that this is politically motivated.” The misleading information, she added, has fueled public outcry.
The false claims: Radio Free Asia’s Asia Fact Check Lab (AFCL) investigated some of the most prevalent rumors circulating on Chinese social media. Among them is a claim that Japan’s decision to avoid reusing the treated water proves that it is dangerous to consume. The AFCL said this is false as the treated water is seawater and therefore unsafe to drink in the long-term. Furthermore, the Advanced Liquid Processing System behind the treatment can only remove radioactive substances — not desalinate water.
Other fake news that have spread include overwhelming mass protests, dying marine animals and the death of a Japanese official who drank treated water back in 2011. Han Yang, a China analyst based in Australia, also found that Chinese state media had reported a South Korean rally as happening in Japan, according to the Guardian.
The results: The alleged misinformation has apparently resulted in adverse consequences for Japan, as well as Japanese nationals living in China. As Beijing bans Japanese seafood imports — insisting they are no longer safe after the discharge — there has been mass panic buying across China, including for salt based on the false belief that it has enough iodine to protect against radiation.
Harassment has also festered. In late August, an unidentified individual threw stones at a Japanese school in Qingdao, Shandong province; eggs were thrown at another in neighboring Suzhou, Jiangsu province. Some have also called to boycott Japanese businesses in China. Meanwhile, businesses in Japan have received abusive phone calls from Chinese numbers.
Fighting fears: Symbolic countermeasures have been made to allay fears over consuming Japanese seafood. Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and three Cabinet ministers ate Fukushima sashimi to show that the local fish remains safe after the discharge; U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel pulled off a similar stunt shortly after.
The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency previously concluded that Japan has met global safety standards for the treated water’s release. The agency determined that the planned gradual discharges would have “a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment.”
What’s next: The discharge, which began on Aug. 24, will continue for decades. China, for its part, maintains that its ban on Japan’s seafood is aimed at protecting the health of Chinese consumers.
In response, Japan announced on Monday a 20.7 billion yen ($141 million) emergency fund to help exporters affected by the ban. “We will protect the Japanese fisheries industry at all costs,” Kishida said in a statement.