Diet Has Undermined Japan’s Standing by Tying Top Diplomat to Domestic Affairs

Japan’s diplomatic efforts are being put to the test amid mounting international tensions. One cannot help but be disappointed that the judgment of the ruling and opposition parties lacks such awareness.

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi did not attend the meeting for foreign ministers of the Group of 20 major economies, which is being held in India. This is because Hayashi prioritized attending the Budget Committee meeting of the House of Councillors as the schedule of the G20 meeting overlapped with that of deliberations on the fiscal 2023 budget proposal in the upper house committee.

It is customary for the prime minister and all Cabinet ministers to engage in question and answer sessions at the opening of the upper house deliberations on budget proposals. The government sought approval for Hayashi’s trip to India, but neither the ruling Liberal Democratic Party nor the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan consented to the request, saying that the rules of the Diet take precedence.

It is important to manage Diet affairs smoothly based on precedent. However, if political parties ignore changes in the international situation and stick to precedent to bind the foreign minister to the Diet, that significantly weakens Japan’s standing.

The Diet Law allows state ministers and parliamentary vice ministers to answer questions at committee meetings on behalf of cabinet ministers. Even if the opposition parties did not agree to this, a more flexible approach would have been to hold a separate question and answer session for the foreign minister at a later date.

There are no signs that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is coming to an end. The G20 includes China and Russia, and this was an important opportunity for the foreign minister of Japan, which this year chairs the Group of Seven advanced nations, to participate and call for the restoration of international order. It must be said that it is highly regrettable that Japan has missed this opportunity.

Kenji Yamada, a state minister for foreign affairs, is attending the G20 meeting in place of Hayashi. With many foreign ministers in attendance, Hayashi’s absence will make Japan’s arguments less persuasive, and make an impression on participants that Japan cannot respond to changes in the international community.

The G20, which is chaired by India, also includes Brazil, South Africa and other emerging economies that have not joined in placing sanctions on Russia.

It is significant that Japan, which has built amicable relations with emerging economies through its long years of assistance and exchanges, continues to appeal to them that aggression must not be tolerated.

A meeting of foreign ministers from the Quad grouping of Japan, the United States, Australia and India is scheduled immediately after the G20 meeting. The ruling and opposition parties intend to allow Hayashi to attend the Quad meeting, probably because criticism of their refusal to allow him to be present at the G20 meeting has grown more intense than they expected.

It has long been pointed out that Japan’s Diet has excessively tied down the prime minister and cabinet ministers. The prime minister and foreign minister, who are responsible for important diplomatic negotiations, should be allowed to travel abroad with flexibility.

In January, India announced the schedule for the G20 foreign ministers meeting. The Japanese government and ruling parties should have been able to foresee the overlap between the Diet schedule and the G20 meeting.

To prevent a recurrence of such mismanagement, it is necessary to check the way the schedule is coordinated.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 2, 2023)