Tuesday Briefing: Japan’s Radioactive Water

by Pelican Press
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Japan’s plan to release into the ocean more than 1.3 million tons of ​treated water from the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has raised alarms across the​ Pacific. The backlash has been particularly severe in South Korea.

The government of President Yoon Suk Yeol is slugging it out with its political opponents through banners, YouTube videos, news conferences and protests. Critics are accusing Yoon of agreeing to Tokyo’s plan for the sake of improving relations with Japan, South Korea’s historical enemy, and at the behest of the U.S., a strong ally of both nations.

The authorities in Seoul are holding daily briefings to dispel what they call fear-mongering by the opposition and to convince people that the water will do no harm. The uproar is threatening to complicate the progress that the three countries have made in recent months toward building a stronger partnership.

Details: Despite widespread public misgiving, South Korea has endorsed the plan — in which Japan would release the treated water gradually over a 30-year period, after it has been filtered and diluted — asking only that Japan provide transparency about the process.

A date soon: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited the Fukushima site on Sunday, signaling that the water release date would be announced as early as this week.

Stocks in China tumbled and its currency weakened yesterday after the People’s Bank of China announced a smaller-than-expected cut in a key interest rate.

Many investors and economists had been expecting Beijing to act more decisively on interest rates as China faces falling housing prices, weak consumer spending and broad debt troubles.

The central bank shaved only a tenth of a percentage point off the benchmark one-year interest rate used for most corporate loans, with no change at all in the five-year rate used for pricing mortgages.

At the street level, the mood has turned dark, our columnist Li Yuan writes. Consumers and business owners say they feel paralyzed, and a reluctance to spend and borrow is feeding what could become a dangerous cycle.

In related news, China wants to expand the group of BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — seeing it as a way to challenge American power, but the members’ conflicting interests may get in the way.

A report by Human Rights Watch released yesterday said that border guards in Saudi Arabia had regularly opened fire on African migrants seeking to cross into the kingdom from Yemen. Hundreds of men, women and children have been killed between March 2022 and June.

The guards have beaten the migrants with rocks and bars, forced male migrants to rape women while guards watched and shot detained migrants in their limbs. The shooting of migrants is “widespread and systematic” and could constitute a crime against humanity, the report said.

A Saudi government statement dismissed the report as “unfounded and not based on reliable sources.”

Somewhere along Ukraine’s long front line, a Ukrainian soldier is probably playing the video game World of Tanks.

It might seem like a baffling choice: Why would anybody want to play a violent video game about a tank war in the midst of a brutal war? But it’s a way for these soldiers to cope with the bloodshed around them.

George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is acclaimed around the world, including in Zimbabwe, which is holding elections tomorrow. Now, a Shona language translation of the classic is making it resonate on a deeper level.

Shona storytellers have always used fables and allegory, and now Zimbabweans have adopted Orwell’s allegorical tale to comment on the state of politics in the country, said Tinashe Muchuri, a poet and one of the lead translators. “The story can be set anywhere in the world and make sense,” Muchuri said. “Human beings are not different, they act and behave the same when in power.”

Sixteen translators took seven years to create “Chimurenga Chemhuka,” or “Animal Revolution.” The names of the characters have been adapted to Shona and the translation uses local dialects. The pigs speak Manyika, Muchuri said, as Zimbabwe’s revolutionary leaders did, and the sheep bleat in slang.

— Lynsey Chutel, our Briefings writer based in Johannesburg.

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