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Dynamics of obedience, dissent within Chinese society

Harassment of Japanese after release of Fukushima water sheds light on an intricate citizen-government relationship in China
A man rides his motorcycle past the entrance of the Japanese embassy in Beijing on Aug. 29. Japan said that harassment being faced by the Japanese in China after the release of water from the Fukushima nuclear plant was 'extremely regrettable,' confirming that a brick was thrown at the country's embassy in Beijing

A man rides his motorcycle past the entrance of the Japanese embassy in Beijing on Aug. 29. Japan said that harassment being faced by the Japanese in China after the release of water from the Fukushima nuclear plant was 'extremely regrettable,' confirming that a brick was thrown at the country's embassy in Beijing. (Photo: AFP)

Published: September 21, 2023 11:57 AM GMT
Updated: September 22, 2023 03:51 AM GMT

Since the commencement of the treated radioactive water release from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea in late August, an unsettling surge of over 400,000 nuisance calls has flooded the Japanese embassy in Beijing.

This disturbing influx of harassing calls appears to be fueled by an escalating anti-Japan sentiment in China, whether born out of a concerning lack of scientific understanding regarding the nature of the discharged water or, in some cases, driven by a deliberate malicious intent to disparage Japan.

On Aug. 25, a mere day after the ocean discharge began, the daily influx of harassing calls peaked at more than 40,000, persisting at around 10,000 in recent days.

The Japanese government has pleaded with China to address the issue, emphasizing the obstruction these calls cause to the embassy's operations, yet the situation remains unresolved.

Some calls have even taken a threatening tone further underscoring the need to rectify this situation urgently.

China's stance opposing Japan's ocean discharge is based on calling the water "nuclear-contaminated," demanding an immediate halt without substantial scientific backing.

Despite international agencies affirming the safety and negligible impact of the discharge according to global standards, China clings to an unscientific position, ignoring the conclusions of the International Atomic Energy Agency's report as recent as this July.

The consistent resistance to the Fukushima water discharge raises a disquieting concern: the readiness to overlook scientific consensus in favor of unfounded fears, a trait often observed in nation-states where power is centralized in the hands of a single individual.

History serves as a sobering teacher, revealing that leaders in such systems tend to consolidate support not by the merit of their policies but by cultivating a common adversary.

This pattern is eerily reminiscent of past instances, notably in nations like Cuba and North Korea. In these cases, regimes have historically thrived on stoking fears of external threats to foster unity among their populace. By creating an external enemy or amplifying perceived threats from abroad, such governments fortify a sense of nationalistic identity and purpose, often deflecting attention from domestic concerns.

In this context, the persistent opposition to the Fukushima water discharge within the narrative of an ostensibly "nuclear-contaminated" ocean further underscores the power of narrative shaping in centralized systems.

The government's characterization of Japan's actions as unilateral and harmful becomes a rallying point to galvanize the public, instilling a shared belief in the face of an apparent external peril. This approach not only fosters unity but also reaffirms the government's narrative and authority.

Critically, this inclination to magnify external threats while sidelining scientific consensus is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it consolidates power and perpetuates a government's hold over the populace, often at the cost of truth and factual accuracy.

On the other hand, it inhibits open dialogue, hampers collaboration with the international community, and potentially jeopardizes a more informed and cooperative approach to shared challenges.

Moreover, China's blanket import ban on Japanese fishery products in response to the water discharge reflects a lack of consideration for the established safety standards and further illustrates the need for a more informed and evidence-based approach.

All the more Chinese laws unequivocally hold individuals accountable for making frequent nuisance calls that disrupt the lives of others, yet the persistence of this issue reveals a gap in enforcement.

It raises an intriguing point: have these 'defiant' Chinese citizens flooded their own government agencies with millions of phone calls in the aftermath of the accidental release of the Covid-19 virus?

The calamity, unlike the situation in Fukushima prefecture, tragically resulted in the loss of millions of lives globally.

Of course, they haven’t, and if they did there would have been consequences. This juxtaposition highlights a huge disparity in the responses.

This lone example serves to underline the dynamics of obedience and dissent within Chinese society, shedding light on the intricate relationship between the citizens and their own government.

It prompts reflection on the selective “boldness” witnessed, often aligning with what is perceived as serving the national interest or the historical narrative that the Chinese government perpetuates.

This historical narrative, at times reminiscent of a bygone era like World War II, keeps certain perceptions alive, shaping the collective consciousness.

In contrast, Japan, with all its imperfections, stands as a democracy where individuals possess the means to question and form their own opinions.

Despite the omnipresence of government-supporting media, there still exists in Japan a pathway for people to access alternative perspectives and information through the vast realm of the internet.

This disparity in information accessibility reflects the 'net wall' that characterizes the information landscape in China, highlighting a divergence in fundamental freedoms and the dynamics of government-citizen relations.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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