April 16, 2014
EDITORIAL: Abe administration's disturbing signs of 'Galapagos' syndrome
In his recent address to newly hired government employees, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe exhorted them to broaden their horizons, saying, “In this age of globalization, Galapagos officials who only know about Japan are worthless.”
That’s well said. But coming from the mouth of this leader, the words sound somewhat hollow. A number of irresponsible remarks recently made by some administration officials and close Abe aides have triggered concerns about the government’s field of vision. We cannot help but wonder if the vision is limited to an area far narrower than Japan: to things that are only convenient to the administration.
For instance, Hakubun Shimomura, the minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, said in a Diet session on March 26 that the so-called Murayama statement was not officially endorsed by a Cabinet decision. The statement was released in 1995 by Tomiichi Murayama, the prime minister at the time, expressing remorse and apologizing for Japan's wartime actions. Shimomura later corrected his comment, saying he had committed “a mistake of fact.”
It is startling that the education minister, a man known as a passionate advocate of teaching “correct history,” was so wrong about such a basic fact. The statement was indeed officially approved by a Cabinet decision.
When he was asked about the government’s definition of the right to collective self-defense during a Diet session on March 20, Ichiro Komatsu, director-general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, adamantly refused to respond, saying he didn’t want to give a wrong answer. “It would be very bad if I answer the question carelessly and am then criticized for correcting my statement later,” he said.
Seiichi Eto, a special adviser to Abe, indignantly reacted to a U.S. statement expressing disappointment at Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine last December with a post on a video-sharing site in which he said, “We are disappointed at the United States for saying it was disappointed.”
Yoshitaka Sakurada, a senior vice minister at the education ministry, attended a rally where people were calling for a revision of the 1993 statement issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono apologizing to the women who were forced to provide sex to wartime Japanese troops. At the meeting, Sakurada supported the call for revising the statement, saying: “I am a person who abhors the fabrication of facts. My feelings and thoughts are the same as yours.”
Similar remarks were also made by a top executive of Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK).
Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga have downplayed the implications of the various utterances by saying they were only “personal opinions.” But that doesn’t dilute the fallout from these controversial remarks.
The various comments by people close to Abe have alarmed the international community and fueled suspicions that these “personal opinions” actually reflect the prime minister’s true views and feelings. The situation is clearly damaging Japan’s national interests, the importance of which Abe likes to stress.
Abe himself is responsible for the situation since his visit to war-related Yasukuni Shrine triggered the controversial comments expressing “personal opinions.” Abe went “in a private capacity,” even though many people around him urged him not to go.
Abe’s renewed passion for pursuing a political agenda for the nation’s “departure from the postwar regime” has inspired his aides to join his crusade. As a result, it seems that they have lost their ability to make sensible judgments, causing the entire administration to lose its balance.
What is especially disturbing is that the individuals who have made these questionable remarks don’t seem to have an inkling of what made their remarks so controversial.
This is clear from a comment written by a secretary to Eto, a special adviser to Abe, in Eto’s blog. “Although Eto made the statement with pride for himself and his country, he has retracted it to avoid causing trouble to the Abe administration, which is pursuing such important causes as making an amendment to the Constitution.”
These officials have not offered any explanation about why and how their remarks were problematic. Nor have they taken responsibility for the controversies they provoked. Nor has the administration tried to hold them responsible for their questionable comments. This indulgent atmosphere appears to be breeding self-righteousness among administration officials and enhancing purely collusive relations among people around Abe.
We are deeply concerned about growing signs of the Galapagos syndrome coming from the Abe administration.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 10