In a matter of weeks from mid-September, Japan-China relations have chilled to a level not seen in recent memory.
“In China, Japanese nationals have been singled out for attacks, such as the hot broth from a bowl of noodles being flung on a Japanese customer, or a man assaulted on the street in Hong Kong,” a Japanese exchange student in China tells Shukan Jitsuwa (Oct 18).
“There’s also been rumors going around that Japanese women in China were raped. Everybody’s terrified that sooner or later one of these rumors will prove to be true.”
With some Japanese in China afraid to go out in public, another concern has surfaced: that something will happen in Japan as well.
“It’s ‘food terrorism,’” says a source employed by one of Japan’s security agencies. “Concerns have surfaced that the incident of poisoned ‘gyoza’ (pot-sticker dumplings) will be repeated. The existence has been confirmed of Chinese terrorists who may be plotting to lace food imports bound for Japan with poison, moved by the slogan ‘Ai guo wu sui’ (no guilt for criminal acts perpetuated in the name of patriotism).”
The previous incident dates back four years, when 10 Japanese children and adults who had consumed frozen gyoza produced by Tenyo Shokuhin in China and sold through a cooperative in Japan reported symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. Fortunately there were no fatalities.
It was determined that the gyoza had been laced with an agricultural pesticide.
“Initially when the news broke, China tried to avoid any responsibility, insisting that the poison had been added after the food arrived in Japan,” says a source described as an “Foreign Ministry agent.” “Several months later, however, similar reports of poisoning occurred in China, and the police, who were concerned over protests, announced they’d arrested a temporary worker at Tenyo Shokuhin, who had poisoned the gyoza out of dissatisfaction over wages. The incident was reported in China via the Internet and in newspapers, so Chinese are well aware of what happened.”
But now Japan’s security apparatus is concerned that terrorists with “patriotic” motives will adopt similar measures.
“We’ve also received data concerning this via the CIA,” says the aforementioned security source. “The plot involves a fanatical right-wing Chinese organization that is planning to pay some poor worker at a factory to poison food. In China now, the gap between rich and poor has widened remarkably and education in morals has been lacking. The data we’ve obtained appears to be highly accurate.”
About 60% of the vegetables, sea foods and other semi-processed and frozen foods imported into Japan are sourced from China. Over the last decade, the volume of imports have jumped fivefold.
“Gyoza are not the only item to be concerned about,” says a journalist covering foreign affairs. “Japan imports ‘udon’ (a type of noodle), croquettes, rice pilaf dishes, hamburgers, cutlets and so on. Likewise for frozen vegetables—there are potatoes, ‘edamame’ (unshelled soya beans), string beans, spinach, corn, broccoli, mixed vegetables and so on. Japan is dependent on China for over half the vegetables on its dining tables. It’s occurred to practically anybody that workers, either through bribery or acting out of a sense of righteous resentment are capable of poisoning a batch.
“Should such a thing occur,” he adds, “panic would break out in Japan. The controversy over the Senkakus would disappear.”
“The Noda-led government has no ability to contain the present situation,” remarks the aforementioned security source. “The police and foreign ministry security groups and the special intelligence unit attached to the cabinet have been collating this data and issued warnings, but to be frank, it’s like trying to grab hold of a cloud—there are limits to what we can accomplish. All we can do is go on collecting the data.”
Despite possible blows to its trade, tourism and retail sectors, the magazine warns, Japan will need to maintain close vigilance for the duration.