Exclusive US military begins buying seafood from Japan to counter China ban

By John Geddie and Yukiko Toyoda

TOKYO (Reuters) – The United States has started buying Japanese seafood for the first time to supply its military there. This is a response to China’s ban on such products, imposed after Tokyo dumped treated water from its crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea.

The US ambassador to Japan revealed the initiative in a Reuters interview on Monday said Washington should also look more broadly at how it could help offset China’s ban, which he said was part of its “economic wars.”

China, which has been the largest buyer of Japanese seafood, says its ban was due to food safety concerns.

The United Nations nuclear regulator vouched for the safety of the water release that began in August from the facility, which was destroyed by a tsunami in 2011. G7 trade ministers called on Sunday for the immediate lifting of bans on Japanese food.

“It 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 that we have proven in all cases to somehow weaken China’s economic coercion is to come to the aid of the target country or industry,” he said.

The first purchase is just under a ton of scallops, a tiny fraction of more than 100,000 tons of scallops that Japan exported to mainland China last year.

Emanuel said the purchases – which are used to feed soldiers in casinos and aboard ships and sold in stores and restaurants on military bases – will be expanded to include all types of seafood over time. The U.S. military had not previously purchased local seafood in Japan, he said.

The U.S. could also look at its total seafood imports from Japan and China, he said. The U.S. is also in discussions with Japanese authorities to help funnel locally caught scallops to U.S.-registered processing plants.


Emanuel, U.S. President Barack Obama’s former White House chief of staff, has made a series of outspoken statements about China in recent months, targeting a variety of issues including its economic policies, opaque decision-making and its treatment of foreign companies.

This came as senior US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, visited Beijing to draw a line under strained relations.

Asked if he considered himself hawkish on China, Emanuel rejected the term, saying he was a “realist.”

“I don’t think it’s combative, I just think it’s realistic and honest. Maybe the honesty is painful, but it is honest,” he said.

“I am for stability and understanding. That doesn’t mean you’re not being honest. They are not contradictory. One way to create stability is to be honest with each other.”

He said China faces major economic challenges that are exacerbated by a leadership that wants to turn its back on international systems.

“The kind of losers in this are China’s youth. You now have a situation where 30% of China’s youth, one in three, is unemployed. There are large cities with unfinished housing…You have large communities that are unable to pay city workers. Why? Because China made a political decision to turn its back on a system that benefited them.”

The latest official youth unemployment data from China, released in July before Beijing announced it would suspend publication of the figures, showed an increase to a record high of 21.3%.

Emanuel said he is also closely watching how China’s leadership responds to the recent death of former premier Li Keqiang, a reformist who was sidelined by President Xi Jinping.

“What’s…interesting to me, what I think is treacherous, is how they’re going to handle his funeral and how they’re going to handle comments about him,” he said.

“I do think there is a part of China that sees the kind of policies he pursued as the best of China. But China has to decide that.”

(Editor: Robert Birsel)

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