The pledge by the Hong Kong government to ban seafood imports from a number of Japanese prefectures falls in line with Beijing's tough stance on Tokyo's plan to start discharging treated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant this summer.
Beijing is mad at Tokyo over a whole range of things – the planned discharge of nuclear wastewater is just one cause of contention.
If Japan had not aligned itself so closely with the US with respect to the latter's strategy on China, would Beijing have not reacted as angrily?
Probably. China's foreign ministry spokesman would have still been unhappy, but perhaps less rhetorical when commenting on the planned discharge.
Seoul, for instance, has softened its opposition to the wastewater release after voicing anger in the beginning following renewed assurance from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
It may be ironic but even food safety can be part of a geopolitical game play.
Hong Kong's response is rather drastic – more draconian than what many in the catering industry may have expected.
While it was generally anticipated that local food-safety authorities would step up monitoring of the radiation levels of seafood imports from Japan, the SAR government has decided to adopt a far more aggressive approach.
This came after Beijing said it would uphold a ban on food imports from roughly one fifth of Japan's 47 prefectures due to food-safety fears.
A question facing the SAR is that it is a lot smaller in size compared to the mainland and a huge number of local restaurants are heavily dependent on food imports from Japan due to Hongkongers' almost addictive preference for seafood fresh from the country.
It is estimated that more than 2,000 Japanese restaurants are operating in Hong Kong. In 2022, the city bought HK$4.18 billion worth of seafood from Japan to become the second-largest market for fishery exports after the mainland.
The concerted moves by the two largest markets puts pressure on Japan's fishermen and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Yesterday, a representative of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades joined the row, expressing concern that a blanket ban on all kinds of seafood from the 10 prefectures – including Tokyo, which also serves as a major export hub for Japanese seafood – could cause substantial damage to the sector.
The federation's Chan Keung raised a valid point when he asked whether or not catches from the sea outside the 10 prefectures but exported via the port in Tokyo would be allowed into Hong Kong.
Such information would be useful for people participating in the trade.
As of now, it seems inevitable that local Japanese restaurants will bear the blunt of the wastewater discharge row.
First, consumer confidence in Japanese seafoods is bound to slump. Second, the ban on imports could deal them a direct blow.
Having survived the Covid pandemic, many restaurants may fail to survive this time.
Environment and Ecology Secretary Tse Chin-wan's undertaking to release daily radiation readings on government websites is welcome and will let the public know if it is safe to consume Japanese seafoods.
Today’s Standard
Trademark and Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023, The Standard Newspaper Publishing Ltd., and its related entities. All rights reserved.
Use in whole or part of this site’s content is prohibited. Use of this Web site assumes acceptance of the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy Statement
and Copyright Policy. Please also read our Ethics Statement.