With the formation of the second Kishida cabinet on November 10, the Prime Minister’s Office has decided to create a new post of “Assistant to the Prime Minister for Human Rights Affairs. The first aide is scheduled to be Gen Nakatani, former defense minister.
The Kishida administration’s appointment of Mr. Nakatani as the “assistant to the prime minister for human rights issues” is a significant move by the Japanese government to take a hard-line stance toward China, or at least to show that it is taking such a stance.
Mr. Nakatani is one of the leading hardliners against China in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and is the co-chairman of the bipartisan Parliamentarians’ Caucus on Policy toward China (JPAC), a parliamentary group established in July 2020 to protest the Chinese government’s crackdown on Hong Kong. The group aims to have the Diet pass the “Act on Specified Human Rights Violations” (commonly known as the “Japanese version of Magnitsky Act”). It is also collaborating with an international group of politicians, the Inter-Parliamentary Union on China Policy (IPAC).
The JPAC, co-chaired by Nakatani and Shizouri Yamao, then a member of the National Democratic Party of Japan, has been a driving force, but it has not been strong enough to take the lead in the Diet, and in June 2021, it failed to adopt a Diet resolution condemning China’s crackdown on human rights.
Behind the scenes, only Japan was “weak-kneed” toward China.
During the Abe administration, the Japanese government launched the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” initiative with an eye on economic security against China, which seems to give some people the impression that Japan is strongly dealing with China. However, in reality, when Western countries issued condemnation statements and sanctions for human rights issues in Hong Kong and Uyghur, they often refrained from participating. This is because they did not want to provoke China.
Of course, the reason why they do not want to provoke China is because they are concerned about economic disadvantage, and the center of such voices is the business community. In addition, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (including influential alumni), former Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and other influential members of the LDP, and the New Komeito Party were also inclined to take a relatively conciliatory stance toward China from the perspective of their own national interests. The Abe administration had even planned to invite Xi Jinping as a state guest in April 2020 until a last-minute postponement due to the outbreak of the new corona.
However, especially since 2014, the Xi Jinping regime in China has been rapidly increasing its military power, forcing its way into the world, and violating human rights in the country, and this has accelerated in recent years. In response, the U.S. and the U.K. have taken a hard line against China, and since the summer of 2021, the EU has also taken a hard line against China. Among the leading countries in the West, Japan is the only one that has been “backing down” on China.
However, Japan cannot continue to ignore human rights issues, especially as the U.S. Biden administration and EU countries focus on them. In this international environment, Prime Minister Kishida’s decision is welcome.
“Expectations for the “Assistant Minister for Human Rights
One of the reasons behind this decision is that the LDP’s hard-line stance against China has been gaining momentum. For example, in the campaign pledge for the House of Representatives this time, the Japanese government clearly stated that it would “condemn China by name,” which it has avoided so far. I have high hopes that the creation of an assistant minister for human rights affairs will not be in vain.
There is one more thing I would like to see in the creation of the assistant secretary for human rights.
I welcome the fact that Mr. Nakatani will condemn China’s human rights violations, but there are many other countries in the world that are also committing human rights violations. However, there are many other countries in the world that are committing human rights violations, and I would like to see Japan get involved in those issues as well.
In fact, Japan can be justly called a “country that disregards human rights” in the international community. As I mentioned above, Japan has been reluctant to issue statements of condemnation and sanctions against China, and the same is true for other human rights issues in Russia, Belarus, Myanmar, Iran, and other countries.
It has often refrained from joining major Western countries in solidarity in condemning and sanctioning human rights violations in these countries. Even when they have joined in with the international community, they have done so only at the margins, inconspicuously, and in some cases, such as against Russia, they have moved to effectively nullify the sanctions.
In recent years, major Western countries have often used the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting as a forum to condemn such human rights violations, and Japan’s foreign minister is also listed in the G7 foreign ministers’ statement.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs probably believes that it would be more effective to take a conciliatory stance toward such countries than to press them with a high-handed attitude, but in fact there have been no examples of the Japanese government’s conciliatory stance leading to the alleviation of human rights violations in these countries. The rulers of these countries are aware of their own human rights violations, and their lax attitude has simply been taken advantage of.
Post-war Japan’s “nakashirase” policy
Nevertheless, the author believes that Japan’s consistently conciliatory attitude toward human rights issues in other countries is an extension of the traditional “meekness” of successive postwar Japanese governments.
As an ally of the U.S., postwar Japan has secured its security, but has refrained from making independent political claims and has prioritized economic interests. It has acted as a small political power, and after its economic growth, it has avoided trouble with other countries by distributing ODA. For Japanese diplomacy, “good diplomacy” means to be liked by other countries, even if they are human rights violators. This has been the historical “culture” of Japanese diplomacy.
Above all, such an attitude by the Japanese government is a blessing for Japanese companies that are expanding overseas. As a company from a friendly country, it is easier to do business there. Human rights violations in foreign countries are not the responsibility of the Japanese government, and ignoring the suffering of the local people is good for the Japanese economy.
Human rights are a problem for the entire human race.
However, the issue of human rights is a problem for the entire human race. Is it okay for Japan to pretend that it does not have a human rights problem when the international community considers it a problem? Can’t we take the opportunity of the Kishida administration’s creation of an assistant minister for human rights issues to get actively involved in such global human rights issues?
I would like to point out that some politicians, not only in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but also in the political world, have ties to human rights violating regimes, especially in Myanmar and Russia.
For example, in the area of diplomacy with Myanmar, the Japan-Myanmar Association (chaired by former Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Hideo Watanabe) and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation/Nippon Foundation have been deeply involved in the Myanmar issue for some time. Among them, some LDP politicians and Japanese companies involved in the former have deep personal connections with the Myanmar military government.
The Japanese government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs have so far taken a lenientstance toward the Myanmar military regime, which is clearly outstanding among major countries in the international community.
Discovery of “Putin” will not bring back territories
In terms of relations with Russia, Japan has so far taken a remarkably conciliatory stance. In particular, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s longstanding “appeal for affection” toward President Putin has been quite conspicuous even in the international community.
Behind this pro-Russian stance of Japan, of course, lies the issue of the return of the Northern Territories. The idea is that Japan does not want to provoke the Putin administration in order to proceed with territorial negotiations.
However, it is clear from what has transpired so far that such “discovery of Putin” has not benefited the territorial negotiations in the slightest. In the first place, the territorial issue and the human rights issue are two different things, and Japan should think carefully about how it will be evaluated by other countries if it “pretends” to ignore the human rights issue.
The Japanese government has been extremely reluctant to address the human rights issues in Belarus and Syria, but criticizing them would probably lead to criticism of Putin, the mastermind behind these issues. At any rate, the Japanese government’s policy to date has been to avoid offending President Putin on diplomatic issues, but I think that a change in policy is what is needed.
However, even in the area of diplomacy with Russia, the influence of some politicians, such as former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Muneo Suzuki, a member of the House of Councillors (Japan Restoration Association), who have strongly asserted that President Putin is a trustworthy person, is significant, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the then Prime Minister’s Secretary from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in the Prime Minister’s Office, who led the Abe administration’s policy of rapprochement with Russia. The influence of some politicians, such as former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Muneo Suzuki, a member of the House of Councilors (Japan Restoration Association), has been significant. And above all, criticism of Putin can be indirect criticism of former Prime Minister Abe, with whom Putin has flaunted a close relationship, and this is a reasonably high hurdle for LDP members.
A government that protects freedom and democracy around the world
However, Putin’s regime has not only suppressed dissidents within Russia, but has also assassinated dissidents outside the country, participated in direct repression and killings in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, and other countries, partnered with China to provide substantial diplomatic support to human rights violating dictatorships around the world, including the Maduro regime in Venezuela and the Kim Jong-un regime in North Korea, and spread fake information. In addition, they have been repeatedly destroying democracy in the world by spreading fake information and instigating the division of Western democratic societies.
To ignore Russia’s human rights issues is to damage freedom and democracy around the world, not to exaggerate. Whether or not the creation of an “assistant minister for human rights” will truly help the Japanese government address international human rights issues will be judged by whether or not it can emphasize human rights issues not only in its diplomacy with China but also with Russia. Of course, Nakatani alone cannot make a major shift in Japan’s policy toward Russia, so I strongly hope that Prime Minister Kishida will make the right decision.
Reporting and writing by： Fumitaro Kuroi photo： AFP/Afro