Setting a Boundary for Geopolitical Feuds
Not long ago, Japan announced that it would release more than one million tonnes of radioactive water contaminated by the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea, which was obviously an extremely reckless decision and disturbing move that startled people all over the world, especially those in neighbouring countries and local Japanese fishers.
The decision of the Japanese government will not only jeopardize the interests of those people, but also threaten the global maritime environment and international public health and security and in the end, damage the common interests of the international community, including Japan itself. In response, countries in the region, including China, Russia, South Korea and the Philippines, and many international organizations have expressed their deep concerns. It is not surprising that the Chinese government and public take this matter very seriously. China and South Korea even summoned Japan’s ambassadors, and “firmly opposed” the decision, as the contaminated ocean concerns their proximity the most.
Greenpeace Japan issued a statement blasting the decision as something that should be “strongly condemned”, which “completely disregards the human rights and interests of the people in Fukushima, wider Japan and the Asia-Pacific region”, and said “the Japanese government has once again failed the people of Fukushima.”
A weird show taking all by surprise
Obviously, Japan made the decision without exhausting safe disposal measures, without fully disclosing relevant information, and without discussing thoroughly with neighbouring countries and the international community first, and is therefore suspected of violating international laws and rules. But just when everyone expects the country to place itself in an “unprecedented position of isolation” in the region and beyond, something weird happened.
Mainstream Western media, which often take a highly critical stance on international affairs (especially if China is somehow involved), chose to put their claws away this time even though Japan’s decision apparently undermines wider human interests. Among them, The New York Times published one article expressing only mild concerns, and The Washington Post stressed that Japan would release the water only “after treatment”, in an apparent defending and justifying tone.
Many also noticed that Western NGOs dedicated to human rights or environmental protection have kept silent over the issue. Even the Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg took a rather “neutral” stance. She forwarded the news of the Fukushima water disposal on April 13th and re-tweeted the decision without any comment, like most Western media, in contrast with her public image of being very sharp-tongued on environmental issues.
In the meantime, the United States seemed to have already sneakily lent its support to Japan, describing its decision-making process as “transparent”. Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, even expressed appreciation by tweeting “We thank Japan for its transparent efforts in its decision to dispose of the treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi site”.
Interesting enough, while the US expressed its support to Japan, it has maintained and reiterated a 10-year-long ban on imports of farming and seafood products from the region near the site since the disaster in March 2011. This makes the US, probably the only country that publicly endorses the Fukushima water release plan, and at the same time, the first country to halt food imports from the region “due to radioactive contamination,” as stated on the website of FDA, renewed on March 4 of this year—around 40 days before the Japanese government decided to dump the contaminated water. “Divisions may detain, without physical examination, the specified products from firms [in Fukushima and other prefectures],” the FDA said in the alert, which means that corresponding items may be detained and rejected for importation without examination.
Indulgence only for self-interests
It is crystal clear that the US government does not really deem the Japanese move as harmless. Then people would ask, if the awareness of risk is evident, why would the US government back Japan anyway and became a cheerleader for Japan’s condemned move when its neighbours have all fiercely protested against the decision?
A South Korean analyst said, the US’s sudden statement of support for Japan’s release of the contaminated water came as a surprise to many. It was also peculiar that the Biden administration would back a plan that could cause serious harm to the global marine ecosystem, since the administration has taken so much interest in climate change and other environmental issues. The US appears to have sided with Japan on this issue for diplomatic reasons, given its increasing need for Japan’s cooperation in its China containment policy.
On the other hand, some analysts believe that Western countries’ tolerance for Japan’s decision is not unrelated to their own misdeeds of the last century. Before the ratification of the international treaty banning the disposal of nuclear waste into the oceans in 1994, the United States, the United Kingdom and others had for long been using the oceans as garbage dumps and thrown in tons of solid and liquid nuclear waste, causing irreparable damages to the global marine environment.
According to data from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), from 1946 to 1993, 13 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, dumped more than 200,000 tons of solid nuclear waste into the sea. The United States alone dropped more than 90,000 barrels and at least 190,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste into the North Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.
Going beyond geopolitical feuds
That being said, many believe the major motive behind the West’s indulgence for Japan is based on geopolitical calculations. Washington’s quick support to Tokyo has sparked accusations, and it is a bad geopolitical show, sending the wrong signal to the world that “political manoeuvres and PR tactics can dilute or even whitewash all awful things”. This is what we ought to worry the most. People with the basic sense of responsibility and morality should ask two questions: Have we lost the capability to tell right from wrong in this challenging world and challenging time? Should we set a boundary for geopolitical feuds and go beyond it when dealing with some of the real problems of global concerns?
No matter how divided the world is, either domestically or internationally, as human beings we must have some common ideals to live upon. Above all the political calculations of any party, race, nation or faith, there is still some basic norms for us all, such as telling right from wrong. Anyone with common sense would recognize that, it is not a good idea to storm any legislative building no matter it is happening in Washington or Hong Kong; 5G stations never spread corona virus; masks do help to protect you and your families and friends during the pandemic; climate change is a reality rather than a hoax; terrorism is still the common enemy of mankind whether it is in New York during 9/11 or in Xinjiang; releasing nuclear contaminated waste water into ocean is indeed putting us all in danger and should therefore not be endorsed, and so on.
There is only one Planet Earth for us. On the evening of April 22nd 2021, when addressing the Leaders Summit on Climate via video link, Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out that the international community needs to come up with unprecedented ambition and action, discuss ways to tackle this challenge, and find a path forward for man and nature to live in harmony. We need to act with a sense of responsibility and unity, and work together to foster a Community of Life for Man and Nature. The unprecedented pandemic has driven home to all of us that the world is indeed a community with a shared future where all rise and fall together. Be it in coping with the current crisis or in making the world a better place for everyone, we must stay in solidarity and work together as one. Whenever there is anything like denying climate change or dumping huge quantity of dangerous nuclear waste into the ocean, there must be someone standing out to chant “How dare you!”, like the Swedish girl Greta Thunberg once did.
Li Jiming is the Chinese Ambassador in Bangladesh.