The New York Times 2013/12/16: Japan's Dangerous Anachronism
Japan’s Dangerous Anachronism
Published: December 16, 2013
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this month rammed through Parliament a state secrecy law that signals a fundamental alteration of the Japanese understanding of democracy. The law is vaguely worded and very broad, and it will allow government to make secret anything that it finds politically inconvenient. Government officials who leak secrets can be jailed for up to 10 years, and journalists who obtain information in an “inappropriate” manner or even seek information that they do not know is classified can be jailed for up to five years. The law covers national security issues, and it includes espionage and terrorism.
Just before the passage of the law, the secretary general of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, Shigeru Ishiba, likened those legally demonstrating against the state secrecy law to terrorists in his blog on Nov. 29. This callous disregard of freedom of speech greatly raised suspicion of what the Abe government really has in mind. The Japanese public clearly seems to fear that the law will infringe on press freedom and personal liberties. In a public opinion poll conducted by the Kyodo News Agency, 82 percent of respondents said that the law should be repealed or revised.
Mr. Abe is, however, arrogantly dismissive of the public’s concerns. “The law does not threaten ordinary life,” he said after the law’s passage. Showing an alarming ignorance of democracy, Gen Nakatani, a senior member of the Liberal Democratic Party, stated that “the affairs of government are distinct from the affairs of the people.”
The law is an integral part of Mr. Abe’s crusade to remake Japan into a “beautiful country,” which envisions expanded government power over the people and reduced protection for individual rights — a strong state supported by a patriotic people. His stated goal is to rewrite the nation’s Constitution, which was imposed by the United States Army during occupation seven decades ago.
The Liberal Democratic Party’s draft constitution, made public in April last year, deletes the existing article on the guarantee of fundamental human rights. It adds that the people must respect the national flag and national anthem. It states, “The people shall be aware that duties and obligations accompany freedoms and rights and shall never violate the public order and public interest.” It also says that the prime minister will have the power to declare a state of emergency and suspend ordinary law.
Mr. Abe’s aim is to “cast off the postwar regime.” Critics in Japan warn that he is seeking to resurrect the pre-1945 state. It is a vision both anachronistic and dangerous.