Amid heightened tensions, Chinese media have intensified their criticism of Japan’s decision to release wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, suggesting that Beijing might be using this aggressive coverage to divert attention from its own economic challenges.

An editorial published on Tuesday in the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times boldly states, “Japan is employing despicable means to shift blame onto China.” The piece further lambasts Japan for portraying itself as a victim while decrying incidents like harassing phone calls from Chinese citizens to Japanese institutions. The editorial asserts that Japan is, in fact, responsible for unprecedented ecological risks to the Pacific and is deliberately fueling anti-China sentiment.

Criticism extends to Japan’s budget allocation of around 70 billion yen ($478 million) in 2024 to counter disinformation regarding the water discharge. Financial news outlet Yicai noted that Japan’s government seems more invested in public relations campaigns than in adopting safer methods for treating contaminated water.

Amid the criticism, a simulation by Beijing’s Tsinghua University has gone viral, indicating that radioactive materials from Fukushima could reach China’s coastal areas 240 days after the release. Such reports may be contributing to harassment of Japanese businesses. A video circulating on Chinese social media depicts an individual berating a supposed Japanese restaurant.

The Chinese government remains steadfast in its stance. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin expressed in a news conference, “In disregard of the international community’s strong criticism and opposition, the Japanese government unilaterally started releasing the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean.” This sentiment is seen as the core issue by Beijing.

While anti-Japanese sentiment grows on Chinese social media, content explaining the scientific rationale behind the water discharge has been removed, potentially indicative of information control by the Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department.

China faces internal challenges including a distressed real estate market, rising youth unemployment, and regional financial strain. Some analysts speculate that Beijing is exploiting the Fukushima situation to divert public discontent.

Japanese businesses in China are already feeling the impact. “Customer traffic during dinner hours has dropped significantly,” reported a manager of a Japanese restaurant in Beijing, citing nearly a 50% drop in sales since the water release controversy began.

As the summer break concludes for Japanese students in China, incidents of hostility have been reported. Japanese schools have witnessed acts of aggression in cities like Qingdao and Suzhou. Consequently, the Japanese government is enhancing security measures to safeguard students.

While nationwide protests akin to those seen in 2012 over the Senkaku Islands dispute have not yet erupted, the forthcoming September commemorations of China’s historical victories against Japan may elevate anti-Japanese sentiments.

A diplomatic source from Japan-China relations stated, “We will continue to be vigilant to see if any troublesome movements surface” as the situation unfolds.