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Logically Bulletin: Coordinated Chinese campaign targets Japan’s release of treated nuclear wastewater

Fukushima Daiichi wastewater release

Logically identified coordinated Chinese state-sponsored narratives driving negative public opinion against the Fukushima Daiichi wastewater release. The research has been covered by The New York Times, the BBC, The Guardian, and Bloomberg.

By Hamsini Hariharan

Background: On 24 August 2023, Japan began the release of treated wastewater from the TEPCO nuclear power plant in Fukushima Daiichi into the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese government, the scientific community, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) endorsed the plan. While citizens in Japan, South Korea, Fiji, and the Pacific Islands voiced their concerns, the most significant opposition to the project came from China.

Analysis: Logically identified that between Jan-Aug 2023, Chinese officials, state media, and pro-China influencers amplified disinformation and narratives related to the wastewater release in line with the Chinese government’s statements opposing the move. Major themes include claims that:

  • The IAEA's safety report is flawed
  • The IAEA does not support Japan’s plan
  • The wastewater release will contaminate Japanese seafood, making it unsafe to eat

And amplification of the following themes:

  • Concerns about the plan expressed by Japanese fishermen, South Korean people, South Pacific islanders, and Chinese people
  • Referring to “treated wastewater” as “nuclear-contaminated water”

Examples

  • Between January and August 2023, the Global Times published approximately 126 articles in English related to the Fukushima Daiichi wastewater release. At the same time, the People’s Daily published around 74 articles in English and 60 articles in Japanese about the Fukushima wastewater release.
  • On Meta, Chinese state media, including CCTV, CGTN, and CRI, ran at least 22 paid ads on the risks posed by wastewater release in multiple countries and languages, including English, German, Portuguese, and Khmer. The ads ran without any disclaimer across at least 1,000 locations worldwide.
  • On 24 August, Mandarin language hashtags on the Fukushima wastewater were at the top of Weibo trends, including
    • 日本核污染水排海正式开始 (Translation: Japan's nuclear-contaminated water discharge officially begins) - 2.4 billion reads,
    • 日本将用700亿日元处理核污染水负面信息 (Translation: Japan will use 70 billion yen to deal with negative information about nuclear-contaminated water) - 430 million reads
    • 中国日料店会大批量倒闭吗 (Translation: Are China’s Japanese restaurants going out of business in droves?) - 320 million reads
    • 受日本核污水影响最大的省份 (Translation: Provinces most affected by Japan's nuclear sewage) - 130 million reads*
  • Between 01 Jan 2023 and 25 August 2023, we observed a 1509% increase in posts mentioning "Fukushima" by Chinese state media, officials, and pro-China influencers.

Impact

  • China reacted to the wastewater release by banning seafood imports from Japan to the mainland and Hong Kong. Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs cautioned its citizens visiting or living in China to avoid speaking Japanese and to remain vigilant. The wastewater release may lead to a further escalation of tensions between the two countries.
  • China’s coordinated narratives amplify climate change misinformation and health misinformation around wastewater release. Logically identified similar coordinated narratives with the Ohio train derailment in February 2023, where pro-China influencers cautioned its citizens not to consume “contaminated” products from Ohio.
  • Chinese state-sponsored disinformation campaigns focus on the failures of the U.S. and its allies and the inability of international institutions to address the larger inequalities in the current world order. On contentious domestic issues, Chinese state media and pro-China influencers amplify legitimate concerns without context and disclosing intention. Therefore, the disinformation complicates an already fraught information system and feeds into the anxieties of vulnerable populations worldwide.

Methodology

This report uses proprietary tools including Logically’s AI-powered threat intelligence platform, Logically Intelligence®, and primary and secondary research to analyse narratives amplified by Chinese State officials and media houses regarding Japan’s release of wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The analyst monitored the content posted by Chinese media houses, official accounts, and social media platforms, including Weibo, Meta, and X (formerly Twitter), between Jan and August 2023. Meta’s ad library was used with relevant keywords to identify paid ads.

References:

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