In a response to China's ban on Japanese seafood products following Tokyo's release of treated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea, the United States has initiated purchases of Japanese seafood to supply its military stationed in Japan. U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel unveiled this initiative in a Reuters interview, suggesting that the United States should explore broader measures to offset China's ban, which he characterized as part of China's "economic wars."
China, which had been the largest importer of Japanese seafood, imposed the ban, citing food safety concerns. However, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog has affirmed the safety of the water release from the Fukushima plant, which began in August, following the plant's damage by a tsunami in 2011. G7 trade ministers recently called for the immediate repeal of bans on Japanese food.
Emanuel described the seafood purchases as part of a long-term contract between the U.S. armed forces and Japanese fisheries and co-ops. He emphasized that coming to the aid and assistance of targeted countries or industries has been an effective strategy to counter China's economic coercion.
The initial purchase involves just under a metric ton of scallops, a small fraction of the more than 100,000 tons of scallops Japan exported to mainland China in the previous year. Emanuel indicated that these purchases, intended to be used in military messes, aboard vessels, and sold in shops and restaurants on military bases, will expand over time to include various types of seafood. Notably, this marks the first instance of the U.S. military buying local seafood in Japan.
The United States is also exploring options to direct locally caught scallops to U.S.-registered processors in collaboration with Japanese authorities.
Emanuel, who has made candid statements about China in recent months, emphasized that he considers himself a realist rather than a hawk. He expressed concerns about China's economic challenges and leadership decisions that diverge from international systems. He also noted China's youth unemployment rate, which had reached 21.3% before the suspension of official publication of such data by Beijing.
Additionally, Emanuel expressed interest in observing how China's leadership responds to the recent passing of former Premier Li Keqiang, a reformist who had been sidelined by President Xi Jinping. He suggested that the treatment of Li's funeral and comments about him could provide insights into China's political direction.
This initiative demonstrates the United States' strategic response to China's economic measures, particularly in the context of food imports, and highlights the evolving dynamics of global trade and geopolitics.