LIBERAL DAILY STEPS UP PRE-ELECTION CRITICISM OF ABE
With the upper house election just two weeks away, Japan is enveloped in an increasingly heated election mood. The liberal mass-circulation daily Asahi Shimbun has been particularly harsh in its criticism of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In a front-page column in its July 7 edition entitled “Can We Afford the Politics of Mockery,” the daily’s deputy political editor Kyohei Matsuda wrote:
“Comparing the performance of the opposition parties today to that of the failed DPJ administration, Abe ridicules and disparages them. Banding together with the closest members of his ruling party, Abe sneers at them, making no secret of his delight in looking down on and excluding them. His “politics of mockery” has remained unchallenged since he came (back) to power six and a half years ago…If this is allowed to continue, there is no way democracy can function properly in this country…”
The author’s enmity towards Abe was fully on display. But an objective observation of the public sentiment in Japan shows that most Japanese feel the DPJ administration (2009-2012) was indeed “a nightmare.” In fact, Abe’s political style is far from “banding together with the closest members of his ruling party and sneering at the opposition,” as Matsuda claims.
The DPJ saw its approval ratings continue to plummet after losing office in November 2012. Preparing for the next lower house election five years later, DPJ members sought shelter under the Tokyoites First Party headed by the then powerful Tokyo Governor Ms Yuriko Koike, but they were rejected. Some of them then created the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, and after many twists and turns others formed the Democratic Party for the People.
That the ruling party has kept winning national elections since then is proof that Abe’s ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) has the support of a majority of Japanese, who acutely detest a return of the DPJ rule. Such public support would have been impossible had the Abe administration merely practiced “politics scornful of the opposition” since 2012. In fact, one feels strongly that the daily’s twisted views reflect its disdain of the people’s legitimate decision to back the party they trust.
Elections are important events at all times in a democracy as they determine the direction of the nation. Several crucial issues are at stake in this year’s upper house election. Among other things, how we vote on July 21 will determine whether or not a constitutional revision Abe is committed to will be possible.
Other key issues pertain to our national economy, pension system, the North Korean abduction, and the Imperial Household. Obviously, the Asahi would never take kindly to Abe setting his hand to undertake these issues, in particular a revision of our “peace” constitution. The Asahi’s aversion to Abe has led to its preposterous and persistent criticism of his politics. A flagrant case in point is its Vox Populi, Vox Dei column on July 3, which read:
Likening Abe to a Dog
“When someone you are with yawns, you do, too…As if contaminated by America’s trade war with China, the Japanese government has announced export restrictions …(of high-tech materials) to South Korea. Even though Seoul’s approach to the issue (of conscripted wartime Korean laborers) has been questionable, Japan’s reaction is just as misdirected.” The column then launches a crude criticism of the recent export control measures taken by the Abe administration:
“Incidentally, human yawning is contagious to dogs. One study concluded that dogs loyal to their masters are especially prone.”
The daily obviously has the close relationship between Abe and President Trump in mind in referring to “dogs” and “masters.” How can the Asahi dare to liken Abe to a dog? Such crass discourtesy should never be allowed with anyone, but the daily apparently thinks that with Abe any rude insult is permissible.
On the same day this column appeared, the daily also ran an editorial demanding that Abe immediately scrap the export restrictions on South Korea. It asserted:
“Any trade policy that runs counter to the principle of free trade should be scrapped immediately. Japan should know better than to join the United States and China in their folly of using a trade war for political ends.”
In criticizing Abe, the Asahi placed his new export control measures on the same level as China’s stoppage of rare earth metals exports to Japan in 2010 and Trump’s decision last year to raise tariffs on Chinese steel and other imports for security reasons. (China’s embargo was put in place following an incident off the Senkaku Islands between Chinese and Japanese vessels.)
Let’s review how Japan’s actions vis-à-vis South Korea came about. On July 1 the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced that Japan would soon implement “stricter export control measures as regards high technology items exported to South Korea.” The ministry explained: 1) South Korea would removed from a list of favored nations that are exempt from regular export license procedures; and 2) effective July 4, Japan would start restricting exports of acyl polyimide (used for smartphone displays), “resist” (a sensitized material applied to semiconductor substrate), and hydrogen fluoride.
Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko cited “several improper export control incidents” involving the three items as the reason for the restrictions, but he refused to give any specifics, citing “reasons of confidentiality.”
The announcement drew immediate reactions from many quarters, including Professor Masahiko Hosokawa, a former director of METI’s export control division who now teaches at the Chubu Institute of Advanced Studies in Aichi Prefecture. Hosokawa said that the government measures are not “export control” strictly speaking, explaining that South Korea would simply be removed from a “favored nations” list. Which means that Japanese suppliers will have to apply for approval for each contract to sell the chemicals in question to South Korean buyers. These items had qualified for a simplified export process since 2004, when South Korea was put on the “favored nations” list, entitling the nation to what is known as a “special comprehensive license,” renewable every three years.
Unreasonable and Rude Criticism of Abe Administration
As regards the export restrictions with South Korea, Abe has repeatedly noted:
“Our latest action is not a ban on exports (to South Korea.) Neither is it a retaliation for the conscripted Korean workers issue. We just decided to terminate the favored nation treatment with South Korea. EU members have not given South Korea a favored nation treatment. We have merely reverted to the policy of treating South Korea in the same way as EU nations do.”
As of this writing (July 7), neither Abe nor Seko has explained the “several improper export control incidents” cited as the reason for the decision.
On a recent weekend tv news show, Hosokawa declared that there have been “frequent” cases of the three items having been illegally channeled to North Korea after they were shipped to South Korea, pointing out that this has become “ordinary practice.”
If the aforementioned items, each divertible to military use, have indeed been channeled to the North, or Iran for that matter, Japan has every reason to remove South Korea from the “favored nations” list. But here I wish to stress anew the simple fact that South Korea has merely been switched back to a normal status calling for it to apply for approval for each contract as most nations do, now that it has lost the “favored nation” status. In its July 3 editorial, the Asahi compared the restrictions to the Chinese ban of rare-earth metals exports to Japan. Naturally, this comparison is wide of the mark.
Another mistake by the Asahi is its assertion that the Japanese decision is “essentially a retaliatory reaction for Seoul’s refusal to deal with “the issue (involving wartime conscripted Korean workers”) in a manner acceptable to Tokyo. In point of fact, Abe’s decision has nothing directly to do with this issue, as Abe has repeatedly emphasized.
The daily’s criticism that the Abe administration has dragged “a political conflict into the trade arena” is erroneous. Also wide of the mark is its contention that Tokyo and Seoul must “cool their heads…and hasten to seek a resolution through diplomatic channels, namely by meetings of ranking officials.” The Japanese government has already made frequent proposals to Seoul for consultations on the matter pertaining to the conscription workers since last fall, after the South Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese corporations to compensate the plaintiffs and their bereaved families. Japan has rejected the rulings and proposed that the issue be put to arbitration under a 1965 diplomatic normalization agreement. The Moon Jae-in administration countered with a proposal that Korean and Japanese firms establish a voluntary fund to pay the plaintiffs, but Tokyo rejected it as “absolutely unacceptable.”
One is inclined to conclude that the Asahi’s ceaseless criticism of the Abe administration is a desperate attempt to prevent an LDP victory later this month, which it fears will lead to a constitutional revision it adamantly opposes. Such criticism by the liberal daily is nothing but an unfortunate product of its biased ideology. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 860 in the July 18, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)