Go to contents

Ruling and opposition parties confront over Fukushima wastewater release

Ruling and opposition parties confront over Fukushima wastewater release

Posted September. 04, 2023 08:52,   

Updated September. 04, 2023 08:52


The political strife between the ruling and opposition parties of South Korea regarding Japan’s release of Fukushima wastewater is taking place in the form of a Mukbang versus hunger strike.

The leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, Lee Jae-myung, has been on a hunger strike for four days as of Sunday. Lee announced he would go on a hunger strike for an indefinite period during a press conference to mark his first anniversary in office on Thursday. For the conditions of stopping his hunger strike, Lee called for President Yoon Suk Yeol to announce his position against the release of nuclear waste water and take the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, apologize to the public for disrupting people’s lives and undermining democracy; and reform government and carry out a cabinet reshuffle. Previously in June, Yoon Jae-kab and Woo Won-shik of the Democratic Party of Korea went on a hunger strike.

On the day of his announcement of a hunger strike, Lee criticized the government by saying that it became an accomplice in Japan’s terroristic act of releasing nuclear wastewater instead of resisting it. His press conference statement was full of claims that intensified people’s anxiety, such as that South Korea is collapsing. Some criticized his hunger strike, which began a day before the beginning of the regular session of the National Assembly in September when he was requested to appear to the court by the prosecution on Monday and there was a mountain of work to do, such as government inspection and processing bills for people’s lives.

Meanwhile, the People Power Party is carrying out Mukbang, also known as an eating show. As the opposition party goes on a hunger strike to influence public sentiment against the wastewater, the ruling party is trying to highlight the safety of seafood, saying, “It’s fine to eat it.” The members of the People Power Party ate seafood throughout its two-day dinner party on Tuesday. The wrap-up party was also held in a sushi restaurant. “We will continue to promote the consumption of seafood and reassure people until they say we have done enough,” the floor leader of the party, Yun Jae-ok, said. “Lee should come here and eat some seafood,” Park Dae-chul, the chair of the policy planning committee, said.

The People Power Party is also presenting itself as a scientific party and repeats the message that wastewater's dangers are unfounded and safe. One of the key efforts to do so is officially changing the term ‘waste water’ to the Japanese version, ‘treated wastewater.’ However, it is doubtful that such a term change will resonate with people at the moment. “While the government tried to communicate with people based on the precise probability of catching mad cow disease, the public responded in a way that such numbers were meaningless as they were so concerned,” Professor Heo Tae-kyun of the School of Psychology at Korea University said on a TV program, comparing the current situation to the 2008 mad cow disease scandal.

As the two parties are going in completely opposite directions of intensifying people’s anxiety versus suppressing it, the battle is only becoming more tense. On Sunday, Lee criticized the government and the ruling party’s efforts to change the term to ‘treated waster water’ by saying that it’s similar to a strange act of changing names to Japanese names, comparing the government and the ruling party to pro-Japanese groups. Meanwhile, the People Power Party criticized Lee’s hunger strike for being a scheme to reject an arrest motion against him in exchange for people’s anxiety.

What’s left are anxious people. According to the survey results announced by Gallup Korea on Friday, 75 percent of respondents said they are concerned about the contamination of the ocean and seafood as a result of the release of Fukushima wastewater. Only 22 percent said they are not worried. The opposition party is turning away from scientific grounds and the ruling party is making repeated claims on safety based on science yet failing to reassure people. Both parties should stop focusing on how to utilize people’s anxiety for their own political strategy.