TOKYO, Oct 30 (Reuters) – The United States has started bulk purchases of Japanese seafood to supply its military in response to China’s ban on the products after Tokyo dumped fish into the sea treated water from its crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Unveiling the initiative in an interview with Reuters on Monday, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said Washington should also think more broadly about how it could help offset China’s ban, which he said him, is part of his “economic wars”.
China, which was the largest buyer of Japanese seafood, says its ban is due to fears over food safety.
The UN nuclear watchdog has vouched for the safety of the water spill that began in August from the plant destroyed by a tsunami in 2011. G7 trade ministers on Sunday called for immediate repeal bans on Japanese food.
“This will be a long-term contract between the U.S. armed forces and the fisheries and cooperatives here in Japan,” Emanuel said.
“The best way we have proven in all cases to exhaust China’s economic coercion is to come to the aid and assistance of the targeted country or industry,” he said.
Asked about Emanuel’s comments at a news conference Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said: “The responsibility of diplomats is to promote friendship between countries rather than defame other countries and sow trouble.”
The first purchase of seafood by the United States under this program is just under a ton of scallops, a tiny fraction of the more than 100,000 tons of scallops that Japan has exported to mainland China last year.
Emanuel said the purchases – which will be used to feed soldiers in mess halls and aboard ships as well as to be sold in stores and restaurants on military bases – will expand over time to all types of fruit The U.S. military had never purchased local seafood from Japan, he said.
The United States could also look at its overall fish imports from Japan and China, he said. The United States is also in talks with Japanese authorities to help move locally caught scallops to U.S.-registered processors.
“NOT A CHINA FALCON”
Emmanuel, who was chief of staff to former US President Barack Obama at the White Househas made a series of direct statements about China in recent months, targeting a range of issues including its economic policy, opaque decision-making and treatment of foreign companies.
It comes as senior US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, visited Beijing in a bid to draw a line under strained relations.
Asked if he considered himself hawkish toward China, Emanuel rejected the term and declared himself a “realist.”
“I don’t see it as hawkish, but I just see it as realistic and honest. Maybe honesty is painful, but it’s honest,” he said.
“I’m all for stability, understanding. That doesn’t mean you’re not honest. They’re not contradictory. One of the ways to establish stability is that you’re able to be honest with each other.”
He said China faced major economic challenges exacerbated by leaders determined to turn their backs on international systems.
“The kind of loser in this affair is Chinese youth. You find yourself today in a situation where 30% of young Chinese, or one in three, are unemployed. There are big cities with housing unfinished… you have large municipalities that cannot pay municipal workers. Why? Because China made the political decision to turn its back on a system from which they benefited.
The most recent official youth unemployment Chinese data, released in July before Beijing said it was suspending publication of the figures, showed the rate had reached a record high of 21.3%.
Emanuel said he was also monitoring how Chinese leaders responded to recent death of former Prime Minister Li Keqianga reformist marginalized by President Xi Jinping.
“What’s … interesting to me, and I think it’s telling, is how they’re going to treat his funeral and how they’re going to treat the comments about him,” he said.
“I think there’s a sort of part of China that considers the kind of policies he was pursuing to be China’s best. But that’s up to China.”
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