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Is Japan Asia's Next Autocracy? 日本はアジアの次の独裁国家になるのか?

FEB 20, 2015 9:00
cite from bloomberg view.com

Is Japan Asia's Next Autocracy?
By Noah Smith

Earlier this year, I highlighted a troubling trend in many countries around the world -- the move toward illiberal government and away from human rights. Unfortunately, Japan is catching the bug.

This might seem like a strange claim.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has implemented some liberal policies, such as a push for equality for working women, and he has championed increased immigration.

Japan’s society has, in general, become more liberal in recent decades, for example by implementing trial by jury. Furthermore, the country recently repealed a longstanding ban on dancing in clubs.

But all this could become largely irrelevant if Abe’s party changes the nation’s constitution in the ways that it wants.

The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), which is one of the most misnamed political parties in existence, has governed Japan for most of its postwar history, with only the occasional brief interruption.

A substantial chunk of the party is philosophically, organizationally and often genetically descended from the political class of Japan’s militarist period. この政党の実質的な部分は哲学的にも、組織的にも、またしばしば遺伝学的にも、日本軍国主義時代の政治的支配者の流れを汲んでいる。

As one might expect, it didn't completely internalize the liberal values that the U.S. imposed on the country during the American occupation.

That faction, once a minority, now appears to be dominant within the party.

The LDP is now campaigning to scrap the U.S.-written constitution, and replace it with a draft constitution.

In a booklet explaining the draft, the LDP states that "Several of the current constitutional provisions are based on the Western-European theory of natural human rights; such provisions therefore [need] to be changed."

In accordance with this idea, the draft constitution allows the state to restrict speech or expression that is "interfering [with] public interest and public order.”

The draft constitution also repeals the clause that prohibits the state from granting “political authority” to religious groups -- in other words, abandoning the separation of church and state.

Even worse, the draft constitution adds six new “obligations” that it commands the citizenry to follow.

Some of these, such as the obligation to “uphold the Constitution” and help family members, are vague and benign. A third, which requires people to “respect the national anthem and flag,” is similar to constitutional amendments advocated by conservatives in the U.S.

But the other three “obligations” are an obvious move toward illiberalism and autocracy. These state:

“The people must be conscious of the fact that there are responsibilities and obligations in compensation for freedom and rights.”

“The people must comply with the public interest and public order.”

“The people must obey commands from the State or the subordinate offices thereof in a state of emergency.”

These ideas wouldn't be out of place in China or Russia. The provision for a “state of emergency” echoes the justification for crackdowns used by many Middle Eastern dictators.

Unfortunately, the deeply illiberal nature of this draft constitution has largely been ignored, especially in the West.

Most people in the West hear only about one piece of Japanese constitutional change: the revision of Article 9 of the current constitution, which forbids Japan from having a military.

It is true that the LDP draft constitution does repeal Article 9. And it is true that repealing Article 9 is a big reason why Abe wants constitutional change.

But focusing on demilitarization is a dangerous distraction.

Repealing Article 9 is a sensible thing to do.

Japan already has a military (called a “Self-Defense Force”), and interprets the demilitarization clause so loosely that it’s unlikely that repealing Article 9 would change much.

It is very doubtful that Japan would invade other countries if the constitution were rewritten.

Japan might as well call its army an army.

But the focus on the military issue has drawn attention -- especially Western attention -- away from the severe blow that the draft constitution would deal to the freedom of the Japanese people.

Japan’s people, of course, don’t want to live in an illiberal state.

More than 80 percent of Japanese people opposed a recent “government secrets” law passed by Abe’s government.
And they also oppose the LDPs attempt to ease the procedures for constitutional revision.

Japanese people have grown extremely fond of the freedom they have enjoyed in the past seven decades, even if that freedom was initially imposed by a foreign power.

The risk is that the Japanese people might be tricked into signing away their own freedoms.

Like Western journalists, they may focus too much on the repeal of Article 9, and ignore the replacement of human rights with "obligations." It doesn't help that Japan’s opposition parties are weak, divided and mostly incompetent, while Abe’s government provides the best hope for resuscitating the economy.

Now, it’s important not to overreact to all this.

A constitution is just a piece of paper, and not all countries take their constitutions as seriously as the U.S. does.

Obviously, if Japan’s leaders want to create an illiberal state, the U.S.-written 1947 constitution isn't going to hold them back; in fact, some revisionist members of the LDP may already silently regard its draft constitution as the “true” law of the land.

Nor is everything in the draft illiberal -- the ban on gender, racial and religious discrimination is preserved, and even extended to the disabled.

But there is real danger in this new constitution.

First, it may be part of a wider LDP effort to crack down on civil society, which has become more obstreperous in the wake of poor economic performance and the Fukushima nuclear accident.

The government secrets law and other crackdowns on press freedom are a worrying sign -- Japan has already slipped from 10th in Reporters Without Borders’ global press freedom ranking in 2010 to 61st in 2015.

Second, adopting the LDP’s draft could be an international relations disaster.

If Japan opts for the kind of illiberal democracy that is currently the fashion in Turkey and Hungary, it could weaken the country’s regional appeal as an alternative to China’s repressive state.

It could also lead to the weakening of the U.S.-Japan alliance -- without the glue of shared values holding the alliance together, the U.S. might be tempted to adopt a more neutral posture between an illiberal China and a mostly illiberal Japan.

The optimal solution would be for Japan to repeal Article 9 of its constitution while leaving the rest untouched.

But politically, that seems to be an impossible trick to pull off -- any measure that would allow the LDP to change Article 9 would also open the door for the authoritarian “obligations” and the weakening of human rights.

The best realistic solution is for Japan to delay rewriting its flawed constitution at all, and wait for a time when the people in power are not still mentally living in the 1940s.

Japan is at a critical juncture in its history.

It has the potential to become a more liberal society, or a much less liberal one.

The former choice is both the wise and the moral choice.


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ギリシャ支援 危機回避へ延長が不可欠だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Extension of bailout program for Greece essential to avoid European debt crisis
ギリシャ支援 危機回避へ延長が不可欠だ

Can a possible flare-up of the European sovereign debt crisis be prevented? Tensions are building over the current situation.

A meeting of the 19 finance ministers of the eurozone on how Greece can meet its debt commitments ended without an accord.

European creditors asserted that Greece would apply to extend the current bailout program for six months on condition that it would maintain tight budgetary discipline.

But Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis rejected this, saying the current bailout program had failed to stabilize the Greek economy.

Eurozone creditors plan to hold more talks with Greece, possibly on Friday, to reach an agreement, but the views of Greece and other eurozone nations remain far apart.

At this point, it is uncertain whether the current bailout program, which ends on Feb. 28, can be maintained.

Should the bailout be discontinued, Greece will face a lack of funds, raising the risk of the country defaulting on its debts.

If the sovereign debt crisis worsens, not only would the Greek economy go bankrupt but the economy of the entire eurozone would eventually plunge into a financial quagmire. Extending the bailout program is essential to avoid seriously affecting the world economy.

Greece must endure the pain of tightening its budgetary belt in return for financing from other eurozone countries, which helped Greece pay the price of its own loose fiscal discipline over many years.

The Coalition of the Radical Left, led by Alexis Tsipras — now prime minister — won the general election last month and came to power after adopting an anti-austerity position.

By honoring its campaign pledge, the ruling coalition may have no other recourse but to reject the austerity program presented by creditor countries.

Lack of strong industries

Except for tourism and agriculture, the Greek economy has had no strong industries for many years, while the ratio of public service workers to the total working population is high.

As a result of the Greek government’s handling of the economy, which relies heavily on fiscal spending, its society lost much of its vigor, with its debts mounting due to increasing expenditures and sluggish tax revenues.

To revitalize Greece, there is no other way but to restructure the nation’s fiscal discipline in accordance with the bailout program of the European Union and other entities, while drastically reforming its inefficient economic structure.

In some other eurozone countries, political parties advocating “anti-austerity” stances are gaining public support, as was seen in Greece.

Worried that loose fiscal discipline may spread to countries in southern Europe and elsewhere, the EU is strongly pressing Greece to toe the austerity line.

Should the bailout talks collapse completely, Greece’s departure from the eurozone will become a real possibility. As this would undermine confidence in the euro system, such a situation must be avoided.

The EU should explore compromises such as easing the terms for repayment, while maintaining, in principle, the current bailout framework.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 18, 2015)



社説:旅券返納命令 前例にしてはならない

February 10, 2015(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Exercise prudence in restricting overseas travel
社説:旅券返納命令 前例にしてはならない

Passports serve as the most effective official identification cards for their bearers when they travel overseas. The Foreign Ministry describes passports on its website as the second most important things for their bearers next only to their lives. Therefore, the ministry's confiscation of the passport of a freelance photographer who had planned to visit Syria in late February to gather news should not be regarded as a precedent.
The ministry took the action under Article 19 of the Passport Act, which allows authorities to order individuals to return their passports if it is necessary to force them to call off their planned overseas trips to protect their lives or assets. This is the first time that the clause has been invoked to confiscate a passport since the law came into force in 1951.

Article 22 of the Constitution guarantees citizens the freedom to travel overseas along with the freedom to change their residence and choose their occupation as their inherent rights. Moreover, freedom of the press is inevitable in a democratic society, which is guaranteed by journalists' news-gathering activities.

On the other hand, the ruthless Islamic State (IS) militant group now rules some areas of Syria. The photographer had intended to go to northern Syria in a bid to cover refugee camps and other places that are not under the rule of the militants. However, it would be almost impossible to completely eliminate risks of being targeted by the militants.
 他方でシリアは、イスラム過激派組織「イスラム国」(IS=Islamic State)がまだら状に支配している。カメラマンはシリア北部に入り、ISの支配下にない難民キャンプなどを取材するつもりだったというが、リスクを完全に遮断できるとは思えない。

The IS has released the painful images of two Japanese hostages, whom the group claims it has murdered, and threatened to target any Japanese national wherever they are. Should the photographer be confined by the Islamic State group, it would not only endanger his life but also adversely affect Japan's diplomatic policies. In the latest hostage crisis, the Jordanian government got involved in the case, demonstrating that the adverse effects of terrorism could spread to the international community.

The photographer's plan to visit Syria was reported by some media outlets after the hostage crisis came to a tragic end. It was only natural that the Foreign Ministry urged the photographer to call off his trip, considering that the timing of his planned visit to Syria was so close to the time of the recent hostage crisis and that if he were to be attacked by terrorists, it would have a serious political impact on Japan.

What is regrettable is how the ministry forced the photographer to cancel his trip.

The fact that the Foreign Ministry had never ordered anyone to return their passports under Article 19 of the Passport Act highlights the seriousness of the impact of such an order. Without a passport, it is impossible for anyone to travel overseas. As such, the ministry should have sought other methods to avoid forcibly imposing restrictions on the freedom to travel overseas guaranteed by the Constitution, though there was little time to act.

The Foreign Ministry has so far urged members of the public to refrain from visiting certain countries or evacuate depending on the countries' levels of danger. There are calls within the ruling coalition for more effective measures to force members of the public to refrain from visiting dangerous countries or areas. However, such measures would allow the government to intervene more deeply in people's daily lives under the pretext of protecting Japanese nationals. It could also lead to indirect media regulations.

The government should exercise prudence in restricting Japanese nationals' overseas travel and treat the latest measure as an exception.

毎日新聞 2015年02月10日 02時30分