China has launched a provocative propaganda and maritime campaign against Japan in April, achieving the dubious distinction of having picked up quarrels with all the four members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (known as Quad) including the United States, Australia and India.
China’s latest offensive, directed at Japan this time, comes close on the heels of the Quad leaders’ virtual meeting in mid-March to discuss their respective approaches to the Covid pandemic. What followed the meeting was of more importance to China as Quad leaders had a flurry of bilateral meetings throughout April with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin travelling to Tokyo and New Delhi. Another round of meetings between the heads of state are on the anvil.
The carrier task group of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) consisted of six warships including three destroyers, a frigate and a supply ship. A Z-18 early warning helicopter from the Liaoning approached the Chiwei Islet of the Diaoyu Islands the following day. The Chinese state media Global Times remarked: “The Liaoning aircraft carrier group’s recent movements serve as a warning and deterrent to Japan, Xu Guangyu, senior advisor to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told the Global Times”.
The warning is said to be in retaliation to Japan not agreeing to resolve the dispute with China over the Diaoyu Islands, a group of uninhabited islands located in the East China Sea between Japan, China and Taiwan. The Japanese call them Senkaku Islands. The immediate reason was Japan’s criticism of the Chinese coast guard patrolling the waters off these islands.
The Global Times quoted Xu as saying that the “PLA will likely hold similar operations and make them regular, based on the development of China-Japan relations, until related questions are solved”.
Simultaneously, China has launched a propaganda offensive against Japan over the latter’s decision, announced on April 13, to “release more than one million tonnes of contaminated water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea”. The water, contaminated when the 2011 tsunami and earthquake fatally damaged the nuclear reactors at the plant, are to be first treated and diluted to bring down the radiation levels below to those set for drinking water. The local fishing communities are opposing the move. So are China and South Korea, with the former being the most vocal.
China has been releasing a twitter campaign caricaturing Japanese historical and cultural icons to portray Japan as an insensitive country. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian even said: “The world has been protesting Japan’s decision for a long time. Some Japanese officials have been acting deaf and dumb…They should listen to the outcry of people around the world over their decision to dump nuclear-contaminated water”.
The Chinese internet has made viral statements by Shen Yi, a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Fudan University, lampooning the west for not flaying Japan. “There is only one environmental problem in the eyes of US and European environmental organizations, which is carbon dioxide emissions. What we are now concerned about is the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated wastewater problem, which is environmental pollution”.
The offensive against Japan follows China’s frustrating experience with Australia. The latter, another Quad member, was the first to not only ban Huawei but also to call to probe the roots of the Covid outbreak in Wuhan, China. The latter responded by imposing economic sanctions that resulted in severe economic losses to Australia.
Canberra has refused to blink in this bilateral war even though China is its biggest trading partner. Earlier this month, it scrapped two controversial agreements between the Victoria state government and Chinese companies under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – the pet expansionist project of President Xi Jinping.
China called it an act of “another unreasonable provocation”, warning that “it again shows that Australia is not sincerely trying to improve China-Australia relations and will inevitably further harm ties”. The Chinese threatened that they reserved the right to take further action in the matter.
China is already involved in a prolonged trade and tariff war with the United States that peaked during the Trump administration and with President Joe Biden showing no signs of revising the American stand China has been trying to up the ante in order to somehow end the American sanctions without having to lose face. The country is already in a standoff with India after entering the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control in the Ladakh region without any valid reason and using delaying tactics to budge from there.
China sees the Quad as an immediate threat and as an attempt by the US to isolate it in Asia and even calls it the “Asian Nato”. It is intent on ensuring that it is not expanded to include countries in central Asia, the Korean peninsula and South-East Asia. The government in Beijing expressed issued statements of protest when in March, 2020 a meeting of the Quad Plus was held to discuss the Covid impact. The Quad Plus is the expanded form the Quad, with representatives from South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam included.