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Foreign Policy

Fukushima and U.S. Diplomacy

Apr 28, 2021
  • Su Jingxiang

    Fellow, China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations

To the horror of the world, the Japanese government has announced it will release more than 1 million tons of nuclear contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean, arguably an offense the international community finds difficult to tolerate. China, Russia, the DPRK and the ROK have conveyed their stern warnings, and local fishermen and international environmental organizations voiced their indignation. By contrast, the United States expressed appreciation to the Japanese government. 

Japan has long been regarded as a developed industrial society with good order. However, this is only its outward appearance. It is vital to remember that Japan is under heavy U.S. influence. The U.S. has a well-established plan for reshaping countries defeated in World War II. As stated in “The Prince” by Machiavelli, “the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute, and establishing within it an oligarchy which will keep it friendly to you.”

Japan was regarded as the poster child for reshaping at the hands of the United States. In the wake of the war, Japan has been restrained under the U.S. strategic framework. The Japanese political system is a typical oligarchy, governed by a handful of almost hereditary politicians, excluding average people. On the surface, the Liberal Democratic Party is patriotic and politically conservative, but in essence, it is defined by two characteristics: market orientation on the economic front and subordination to the U.S. on the diplomatic front.

Market-oriented means the party practices money politics and sets out favorable policies for conglomerates, which in turn provide donations to finance political power-grabs. Electricity provides the lifeblood for modern society, and Tokyo Electric Power, a private company, monopolizes the power supply across Japan.

As the operator of the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power was primarily responsible for the 2011 nuclear accident. Delayed relief efforts led to a shortfall of backup power to cool down the reactor, and to the consequent explosion. A sustained supply of seawater was used to extinguish the burning reactor, resulting in large amounts of contaminated water. After the accident, the Japanese government still put the company in charge of cleaning up in the aftermath.   

As a matter of fact, the fallout of the Fukushima nuclear accident emerged a long time ago. In 2018, wine from California was found to be contaminated with harmful radioactive particles released at Fukushima. Iodine and strontium and other radioisotopes were detected in vegetables from the ROK and fish harvested in Japanese ocean waters.

It is common sense that nuclear radioactive elements are harmful, and the current technology available cannot rid water of 60 varieties of highly radioactive nuclides, including tritium, iodine, ruthenium, strontium and cobalt. Once the contaminated water is released into the ocean, these hazardous materials will find their way into the food chain via fish, living organisms and plants.

Once consumed by humans, these nuclides bring radiation inside the body, which is far more hazardous than external radiation. The sea current will carry radioactive chemicals far and wide, putting the fishing industry in jeopardy and exposing neighboring countries to immeasurable and unpredictable dangers.   

Oligarchy politics and market-oriented principles mean that Japan is subordinate to the U.S. diplomatically, and any politicians who speak out against the U.S. cannot survive in Japan.    

Japanese prosecutors and intelligence agencies are closely affiliated with the U.S. and will intervene and bring such individuals down. Market-oriented means key economic agencies are open to U.S. interference. The company in question, Tokyo Electric Power, is under close monitoring and control of the U.S. under a nuclear agreement between the two countries. The U.S. should be clear about the contaminated water.

Back in 1947, Cold War policy architect George Kennan highlighted that the U.S. must retain control of Japanese oil exports to ensure veto power over the country, a principle that still applies today. It even covers more areas, such as electricity. What Kennan suggested is “direct coercion,” but U.S. policy has evolved to “indirect coercion,” which makes Japan reliant on the U.S. as a security anchor by destabilizing the security environment, and commit itself to serving U.S. strategic goals on its own accord, as if they were their own strategic goals.  

Strategic circles in the U.S. are showing renewed interest in chaos theory and center-of-gravity theory, which holds that the U.S. should leverage to the extent possible the chaotic random occurrences that are unpredictable, delicate and destabilizing to gain strategic advantage. In this way it can identify the center of gravity and thereby strike more effectively. In U.S. strategic calculus, China is obviously the center of the center of gravity. It underpins the spoke and hub of the U.S. strategic framework.    

All in all, the Japanese government's decision to discharge radioactive water into the sea laid bare the real political morality of Japan. More important, it reveals America’s strategic intent, which is to create new chaos in East Asia through sowing seeds of discord between China and Japan. It might well be expected that politicians in the U.S. and Japan will make new attempts to gradually groom Japan as the front-line soldier in a multilateral anti-China assault. 

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