That’s it for this week’s China Brief.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s China Brief. Here we bring you the highlights from this week’s news on China and its relationship with the rest of the world.
China’s response to Japan’s release of treated radioactive wastewater from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the ocean has caused a stir this week, with calls for boycotts and protests erupting in mainland China. The decision has spurred China to react with anger, banning seafood imports from Japan and stirring up an anti-Japanese campaign in state media. This could lead to further boycotts, targeting Japanese businesses operating in China.
As the International Atomic Energy Agency approved the release of the wastewater, experts almost universally agree that it is safe, although a few have raised questions. Nevertheless, in the Chinese public consciousness, the incident has catalyzed media exaggerations and irrational fears – leading to people hoarding salt to stave of potential radiation, despite the fact that China regularly releases its own treated wastewater into the ocean.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has often responded to incidents like these with informal boycotts as a form of economic coercion. The response to the Fukushima incident may be indicative of how the CCP views the current state of the Chinese economy, and how they are likely to proceed in the future. After ideological credibility fell apart following the Cultural Revolution decades ago, and economic credibility resting on improved quality of life being threatened by the current economic slowdown, the CCP has increasingly leaned on nationalism as its key pillar, and Japan-bashing an easy way out. Whether that will be enough to appease the Chinese public and prevent further unrest remains to be seen.
This happens alongside the Chinese government’s “Sinification of Islam” campaign, which aims to combat extremist and separatist movements, but has led to further suppression of Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, including the disappearance of those who investigate the fate of their relatives and people overseas being harassed by Chinese security forces.
Chinese President Xi Jinping showed up in Xinjiang with an unannounced visit last week to praise the Chinese government’s policies there and call for tighter measures, as though to send a message of fear to any dissidents. At the same time, the importance of the situation was made known as the U.S. Commerce Secretary, Gina Raimondo, was deployed to Beijing, in an attempt to steady the U.S.-China relationship.
Propaganda and disinformation efforts of the Chinese government have continued to be largely unsuccessful due to the nation’s lack of political flexibility, and as evidenced recently by Facebook’s identification of a Chinese influence effort blundering its way around the web.
The Chinese stock market has continued its downward spiral despite government attempts to prop it up, with foreign investors increasingly losing confidence in Beijing’s ability to do so. To make matters worse, the Chinese property market looks to be reaching a critical point, with major developers such as Country Garden potentially edging closer to default. Combined with the economic slowdown, these are worrying signs for the state’s financial future.
That’s it for this week’s China Brief. Sign up to receive China Brief in your inbox every Tuesday.