KUDOS TO PRIME MINISTER SUGA FOR WISE DECISION REGARDING ACADEMIC FREEDOM
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has refused to appoint six academics recommended by the Science Council of Japan (SCJ) as its new members. I highly value his wise decision. Before explaining why, let us first see what type of organization this council is.
The Tokyo-headquartered SCJ was founded in 1949 amid the American occupation of Japan (1945-52), approved by the General Headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur as a representative organization of Japan’s scientist community expected to make independent policy recommendations. Founding members of the SCJ felt strongly that during the last war they had been coerced into “cooperation with the government’s war efforts.” The body, often referred to as “the academics’ Diet,” can be said to have since grown into a tightly-knit group of scholars who share similar values with Toshiyoshi Miyazawa, the famed constitutional scholar who held sway at the Faculty of Law of the prestigious national Tokyo University until the mid-1970s.
The SCJ comprises 210 members who serve one six-year term only, with half of them replaced every three years. This time it recommended a total of 105 scientists for appointments as its new members, but Suga refused to appoint six of them. One would expect that replacing half its members would create new changes within the organization, but that apparently isn’t the case: a recommender is prone to push for his or her disciple, or a scholar of similar inclinations. The process hardly enables the SCJ to come up with quality new members in the true sense of the word.
In view of its origin, that the SCJ has often been critical of government policies can be considered a matter of course. I wish to stress that I think it important for the community of scholars to think and research freely and make demands on the government as is expected of them. And I think the government should pay respect to scholarly criticism.
However, it is only natural for the government to demand that they revise their proposals if they go off the rails or are not in the interests of the public or the state. Annually, some ￥1 billion (approximately US$ 9.5 million) of our tax moneys are poured into the SCJ to finance its activities, which makes it incumbent on the government to make sure that changes are made when necessary. There are ways for the government to intervene, such as by reducing budget allocations or through personnel moves.
The government has yet to clarify the reasons for its refusal to appoint the sextet. Considering the past actions of the scholars concerned, however, we can make a well-educated guess.
Two of the sextet—Professors Ryuichi Ozawa, a constitutional law expert at Jikei University School of Medicine, and Masanori Okada, an administrative law specialist at the Faculty of Law of Waseda University—are known to be sympathetic to the minority opposition Japan Communist Party (JCP), their names having frequently appeared in the party’s organ Akahata since September 1999. At the time, Ozawa and Okada were associate professors, respectively, at Shizuoka University and Kanazawa University.
Both have colorful records of political activities. Below is the list of Ozawa’s main activities:
・May 2002. Endorsed “A Joint Appeal of Scholars and Researchers against the Three Bills under National Security Legislation”;
・June 2004. Joined “the Article 9 Association Committed to Block Constitutional Revision”;
・September 2015. Signed an appeal to “Oppose and Abrogate the National Security Legislation”;
・August 2016. Endorsed the “National Citizens’ Campaign to Revise Article 9 of the Constitution”;
・July 2017. Endorsed the “Combined Action Committee to Protect Article and Prevent War”;
・June 2019. Participated in the “June 10 Nation-Wide Citizens’ Action to Oppose Abe’s Plans to Revise Article 9.”
Ozawa’s vigorous political activities have been amply reported by Akahata. All of the sextet whose appointments Suga has refused to approve signed the 2015 petitions that “opposed and called for an abrogation of the national security legislation.” Their persistent opposition traces back to the fundamentals Professor Miyazawa preached as he religiously urged that Article 9 be protected under all circumstances.
Each of us has the freedom to have our opinion about the “peace” constitution. I assume that is why the scholars involved and their supporters assert that Suga’s rejection, which they see as a denial of their individual rights, impedes academic freedom, driving the JCP and the leading opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), to condemn the decision. Jun Azumi, chairman of the CDP’s Diet Affairs Committee, stressed that “(the SCJ) is recognized as ‘the academics’ Diet,’” with JCP chairman Kazuo Shii arguing that “it is a body that represents all of Japanese scientists both at home and abroad.”
These claims are simply laughable. In point of fact, Professor Tomonori Totani, a respected astronomist at the Graduate School of Science at Tokyo University, tweeted on October 2: “Please give me a break. Stop calling the SCJ ‘the academics’ Diet’ or ‘a body representing the nation’s 870,000 scholars.’ Who to nominate as new SCJ members is decided solely by its members. Most of we non-member scientists are unable to get involved in the scientific policies this elitist body proposes to the government and are even denied voting rights.”
Commented Dr. Tadashi Narabayashi, emeritus professor at Hokkaido University and a prominent reactor engineering specialist: “The claim that the SCJ represents Japanese scientists at home and abroad is nothing but a fiction. This body is powerful up to a point in moving the world of academic research in Japan. But it is, after all, only a body comprising a limited number of experts and cannot qualify to describe itself as such.”
Research Not Possible in Japan
On March 24, 2017, the SCJ issued a statement banning research institutions at universities across Japan from studies related to military and security affairs. But isn’t banning military studies itself a blatant inhibition of academic freedom? The statement further revealed the council resorts to a double standard. While prohibiting military and security studies at home, it imposes no restrictions on its members who carry out those studies at universities and research institutions outside of Japan, namely China.
China strongly calls for civil-military integration in all fields. If found useful for its military, China diverts every civil technology to military use—quite different from Japan, where the government refrains from intervening in private companies. Therefore, one should view all scientific research conducted in China as ultimately leading to military research—no matter what it may be called. And yet, the SCJ does not bother to put brakes on its members engaging in research for Chinese universities or research institutions.
One example is Professor Toshio Fukuda, a top robotics expert at Meijo University, a private university in Nagoya, who became a member of the SCJ in 2011. The following year he was invited to join China’s ambitious “Thousand Talents Plan” (TTP), a program formulated in 2008 to attract leading scientists at large salaries.
In 2013, Fukuda became a full-time professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) known for its outstanding accomplishments in military research. An entry on Fukuda on the homepage of Beijing Institute of Technology states:
・Fukuda stands out in the fields of micro/nano and biomimetic robotics;
・Since 2000, he has engaged in joint research with BIT Professor Huang Qiang, a noted expert on intelligent robots and systems;
・Since 2008, he has served as a foreign academic lecturer in the science and technology department created at the state key laboratory to design and manufacture special mobile platforms;
・In 2010, he was named a member of the academic committee in the education department of “the biomimetic robot system” at a state key laboratory; and
・In 2013, BIT promoted him to a full-time professor.
As I have mentioned earlier, Fukuda joined the SCJ in 2011. It is impossible to deny
the possibility that his research has been converted to military use for China which stringently calls for civil-military integration. Not a few Japanese scientists other than Fukuda are in China today, engaged in research that the SCJ does not allow them to conduct in Japan. I strongly question why the SCJ fails to issue a strong warning to them.
I cannot but suspect a deep darkness beyond the exchange of scientists between Japan and China and China’s varied recruitment plans, including the TTP. We Japanese must strictly bear this concern in mind when considering the right and wrong of Suga’s recent refusal to approve the SCJ nominees.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 921 in the October 15, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)