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In China, Sympathy for Japan, But Worries Over Radiation

March 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
From Beijing, Jeffrey Kaye reports on China's concerns over the nuclear radiation threat from Japan's damaged reactors, plus sympathy for their neighbors over the devastating earthquake and tsunami.
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TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: In China, Japan’s biggest neighbor, there is both worry and sympathy.

Special correspondent Jeffrey Kaye has been there on a reporting trip for us and has this story from Beijing.

JEFFREY KAYE: At many Chinese grocery stores, there’s been a run on salt.

How much salt did you sell?

WOMAN (through translator): About — over 100 bags.

JEFFREY KAYE: Panicked consumers have heard rumors, misinformation, that iodized salt can prevent radiation poisoning.

So, was this shelf filled with salt?

Mrs. Hou runs a small shop in south Beijing. She happily sold her customers salt, but was confused about its purpose.

And what are people going to do with the salt?

WOMAN (through translator): I’m not sure. They just — they didn’t tell me.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY KAYE: These men were hoping to find salt because they worried that future supplies imported from Japan might be tainted.

“We want to get sea salt now,” he said, “before contaminated salt is sold.”

Chinese government officials have warned consumers not to panic, assuring them of plans to monitor exports of foodstuffs from Japan.

DR. CHEN ZHU, Chinese minister of health: Of course, to avoid panic of the people, the health departments in China are mobilizing the experts to give more education to the people.

JEFFREY KAYE: Chinese Health Minister Dr. Chen Zhu told the NewsHour the government will keep a close watch on radiation levels.

DR. CHEN ZHU: We have the Chinese CDC, which has the monitoring system for the radiation material contamination in water and in food. And, in addition, at the level of the border inspection, the agency also is increasing the inspection of the imported food from Japan.

MA JUN, Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs: And we would like to see all this monitoring data being fully disclosed.

JEFFREY KAYE: Environmentalist Ma Jun, who heads a Beijing nonprofit group, says he wants both governments to make public the information they collect.

MA JUN: We did have some experience in the past when some local governments in China tried to cover up some — some toxic spills and some endemic diseases, like SARS.

JEFFREY KAYE: As a result of the crisis in Japan, China is now reassessing its own nuclear power policy. The nation is in the process of building 37 new nuclear power plants and is now reexamining safety standards.

In addition to concerns about their own welfare, some Chinese have been collecting money for earthquake and tsunami victims. This evening, at a Beijing nightclub, the entrance fee went to raise money for the Red Cross of Japan. Besides private relief efforts, the Chinese government has sent rescue workers and humanitarian assistance.

The aid from China has been hailed as somewhat of a breakthrough in relations between neighboring countries that historically have had an antagonistic relationship.