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China-Japan relations

Fukushima officials see silver lining in radioactive cloud as Beijing mulls lifting food ban

Prefecture troubled by years after nuclear disaster welcomes talks between Beijing and Tokyo that could lead to Chinese ending import restrictions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 May, 2018, 5:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 May, 2018, 9:12pm

More than seven years after their prefecture became the scene of the second-worst nuclear disaster in history, trade officials in Fukushima have welcomed reports that Japan and China will discuss lifting Beijing’s ban on imports of food from the region.

An agreement to open talks was reached at Wednesday’s summit in Tokyo between Premier Li Keqiang and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Most of the discussions focused on developments on the Korean Peninsula, but progress was made on bilateral issues – including food exports from Fukushima and the introduction of a hotline to prevent accidental clashes in the air and at sea – enhancing the recent sense that relations between Beijing and Tokyo are improving after several tense years.

The Fukushima officials told the South China Morning Post that they hope that translates into Beijing reopening the door to exports of agricultural and fisheries products.

“Fukushima prefecture has been strictly monitoring food products since the accident and I strongly wish for the Chinese government to quickly lift the import restrictions based on the scientific evidence,” said Takahiro Ichimura, director of the prefecture’s Trade Promotion Council.

“Fukushima prefecture is extremely large, covering an area equal to Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures as well as Tokyo combined,” he emphasised. “Regarding the nuclear accident, the evacuation area near the power plant is an extremely small part of the prefecture.”

Fukushima is also an important rice growing region for Japan and is famous for its seafood. In 2010, the year before the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant was crippled by a magnitude-9 earthquake and a series of towering tsunami, around 153 tonnes of food were exported.

Fifty-four countries and regions imposed temporary import bans immediately after the double disaster, when radiation levels increased to unsafe levels and the Japanese government swiftly stopped shipments of food until safety could be guaranteed.

Since then, 27 countries have lifted their restrictions and the prefecture shipped 210 tonnes of agricultural products abroad last year, mainly to Malaysia and Thailand, although there has been a reluctance among some consumers to buy the products because of the lingering fear of radiation poisoning.

Overseas exports closer to home – those to South Korea, mainland China and Taiwan – have not picked up, however, due to the same concerns about radioactivity.

At the moment, China bans imports of food from 10 prefectures in northeast Japan and even requires food from prefectures not subject to its total ban to include a certificate indicating its origin. Some products from outside the 10 prefectures are also required to undergo radiation inspections.

As recently as March, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor turned down a request during a visit by Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono to lift the city’s ban on imports of fresh produce and milk from Fukushima and four neighbouring prefectures.

Lam also insisted that targeted radiation testing on products from the rest of Japan would continue.