TOKYO -- Japan's government has requested that China provide accurate information to its public after a program on state television claimed that banned imports of Japanese foods were being sold there.
"We have been communicating with the Chinese side so that correct information will be provided in China," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Tuesday.
With Japanese businesses there scrambling to respond to the show's claims, the March 15 report on China Central Television has become a new source of bilateral friction.
The segment on a popular consumer affairs show had claimed that Japanese food products covered by an import ban were still available in China. The ban, imposed after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan, applies to foods from Fukushima and as far away as Tokyo.
But the report appears to have mistaken the Japanese companies' headquarters for where the products were actually made.
Aeon pulled imported Japanese foods from its roughly 60 supermarkets on the mainland. The Japanese retailer plans to resume sales after confirming the origin of each item. But as of noon Tuesday, they remained absent from the shelves.
In Beijing, an Aeon store-based fair showcasing products from Okinawa was delayed from the planned date of Saturday, despite the southernmost Japanese prefecture's great distance from Fukushima.
"There should not be any problem with Okinawan products, since the prefecture is outside the import ban area," an Aeon official said. But the company apparently made its decision out of a desire to avoid confusion so soon after the TV report.
Ryohin Keikaku, the company behind Muji stores, saw some of its products specifically accused of skirting the import ban. It said the next day that the items named in the report were not produced in the banned prefectures. Muji locations in China continue to sell them as usual.
Pushing back softly
The Japanese Embassy in Beijing distributed a document Friday to inform Chinese consumers. All Japanese food products exported to China for events undergo strict checks of their origin, it assures readers. But back in Tokyo, there are strong concerns in the government of potential reputational damage to Japanese businesses.
The incident is "extremely regrettable" and "most troubling," said Yuji Yamamoto, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, in a news conference Tuesday, describing the report as "based on a misunderstanding."
Visiting Beijing on Saturday, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda met with Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Kong Xuanyou and sought understanding for Japanese rules on origin labeling for food products.
Tokyo has not lodged an official protest at this point, hoping to avoid a full-blown confrontation. It knows that this is a politically sensitive time for a China that will select new leadership this fall at the Communist Party's twice-a-decade National Congress.
But some in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party want Japan to take a "tough stance" if Beijing does not offer a satisfactory response, a high-ranking LDP official said.