Senior Chinese military officers have postponed their planned visit to Japan this month, seemingly due to the recent dispute between the two nations over the release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear complex into the sea, sources close to the matter said Tuesday.
The trip was planned as part of reciprocal visits between the two Asian powers' defense officers, which restarted in July when Japanese Self-Defense Forces members visited Beijing after a four-year suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The rescheduled visit by senior members of the People's Liberation Army is unlikely to be realized by the end of the year, according to the sources.
The postponement comes amid China's fierce opposition to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s discharge of the water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, wrecked by a massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami, into the Pacific Ocean that began on Aug. 24.
Despite the water having a tritium concentration level below global safety standards, Beijing has opposed the discharge, imposing a blanket ban on Japanese seafood imports. Tokyo has panned the ban as lacking scientific grounds and demanded its withdrawal.
After the start of the water discharge, China told the Tokyo-based nonprofit Sasakawa Peace Foundation, an organizer of the mutual visits, that it had decided to postpone the visit due to inconvenience, the sources said.
The Chinese officers were to meet Japanese Defense Ministry officials and visit SDF facilities during their stay in Japan, originally slated for mid to late September, according to the sources.
The reciprocal visits started in 2001 as a defense exchange program to build confidence and prevent contingencies. It was suspended in 2012 after Japan put the Senkaku Islands, claimed by China in the East China Sea, under state control.
The program was resumed in 2018 but again halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, with defense officers of the two countries holding an online exchange in 2021.
With the water discharge at the Fukushima power plant straining bilateral ties, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese Premier Li Qiang did not hold sit-down talks on the fringes of Association of Southeast Asian Nations-related summits in Jakarta last week, only having an informal chat.
China has effectively rejected a visit by Natsuo Yamaguchi, chief of the Komeito party, in late August. The junior coalition partner of Kishida's Liberal Democratic Party is known for its friendly ties with Beijing.