China urges ASEAN regional forum to oppose Fukushima water release

China has called for the chair statement of an ASEAN Regional Forum meeting later this week to express opposition to Japan’s planned release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant, a diplomatic source said Monday.

The move reflects Beijing’s efforts to involve the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its partners in putting more pressure on Tokyo to halt the water discharge plan at the 27-member forum’s ministerial meeting slated for Friday in Jakarta.

At working-level consultations, Beijing has also asked Indonesia, the chair of the grouping this year, to avoid using the term “treated water” in the ARF statement to be issued following the annual security gathering, the ASEAN source said.

Japan has dismissed China’s stance, saying the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded in a report released last Tuesday that the country’s plan aligns with global safety standards and would have “a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment,” the source added.

South Korea has said it respects the outcome of the IAEA’s review as a result of its own analysis of Japan’s plan. China, however, has criticized the U.N. nuclear watchdog while also urging Tokyo not to carry out the water discharge.

Japan’s government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., operator of the Fukushima plant, aim to begin releasing the water into the sea around the summer after it undergoes processing to remove most of the radionuclides except tritium.

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters that Tokyo has used the pseudo-scientific term “treated water” to downplay the risks of the “nuclear-contaminated water,” hinting at expanding Beijing’s import controls on Japanese food.

The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident was triggered by the March 2011 devastating earthquake and ensuring tsunami.

Joined by regional powers including the United States, Japan, China and Russia, as well as India, Australia, South Korea and North Korea, the ARF holds annual foreign minister-level talks on political and security issues.

Amid a further widening rift between the major democracies and the China-Russia camp since the launch of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, President Vladimir Putin’s government is likely to side with Beijing at the ARF meeting.

Russia has also been eager to strengthen its quarantine systems for Japanese fishery resource imports due to concerns about water contamination, while requiring detailed information, along with China, from the IAEA.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Last year, the region agreed in principle to admit East Timor as its 11th member, granting the nation observer status until it joins the bloc.

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