Japan Ruling, Opposition Parties Relent on Diplomatic Travel

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi is seated during a meeting of the House of Councillors Budget Committee on Wednesday, as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida answers a question.

Ruling and opposition parties have decided not to require Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi to attend Friday’s Diet deliberations, following criticism over their refusal to let him participate in a Group of 20 foreign ministers meeting in India.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan agreed Wednesday that Hayashi can attend a meeting of the Quad four-nation cooperative framework on Friday, the day after the end of the G20 meeting. The framework comprises Japan, the United States, Australia and India.

Both the LDP and the CDPJ effectively rejected a government request for Hayashi to travel to India for the G20 meeting. The two parties were following Diet custom that the prime minister and all Cabinet ministers be present at the opening of House of Councillors deliberations on budget proposals.

However, the decision invited criticism for forcing Hayashi to miss an important diplomatic opportunity.

The agreement over Hayshi’s attendance at the Quad talks was reached by the chairpersons of the upper house Diet Affairs Committee from the two parties, even though they had initially intended to seek his attendance at Diet deliberations on Friday as well.

“We took into consideration how important the Quad is,” said Kotaro Nogami, the LDP’s Diet affairs chief for the upper house.

Some members of the ruling camp downplayed the G20 foreign ministers meeting, describing the event as a mere ceremony with top diplomats just reading documents.

However, national leaders often have significant exchanges during banquets at international conferences, or while chatting between official discussions. Some government officials said the G20 meeting was a good opportunity for Japan to demonstrate its presence and that it was embarrassing Hayashi did not attend because of Diet deliberations, even though Japan is chair of the Group of Seven industrialized nations this year.

Some politicians have called for a review of Diet customs. Nobuyuki Baba, leader of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), said: “Discussions should be held over how much [such a policy] undermines national interests.”

Other expressed doubts over “mishandling” by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry.

Jun Azumi, chairperson of the CDPJ’s Diet Affairs Committee, asked at a Wednesday party meeting whether the government had made diplomatic efforts, such as trying to adjust the schedule of the G20 foreign ministers meeting so it would not overlap with the Diet session.

However, it is widely believed it would be difficult for Japan to change the schedule of an international conference for its own convenience, as such gatherings are attended by dignitaries from many countries.

Hayashi’s missing the G20 meeting also surprised India. The Economic Times reported it “may cast some shadow over New Delhi-Tokyo ties.” The Hindustan Times described the move as “unbelievable,” adding it “upset” the host country.

Hayashi speaks for 53 seconds

Hayashi only spoke for 53 seconds during Wednesday’s deliberations, which lasted more than seven hours, at the upper house Budget Committee.

Hayashi remained seated for almost all the day’s deliberations, except for answering one question that a fellow LDP lawmaker put to him.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and all his Cabinet ministers attended the question-and-answer session, which ran from 9 a.m. to after 5 p.m. Three LDP members and four CDPJ members posed questions, but it was Kishida who was asked about foreign policy.

Only Ryosuke Kozuki of the LDP asked a question of Hayashi, which was about the loneliness that Japanese people living abroad could feel.

“It is important [for the Foreign Ministry] to support activities by nonprofit organizations, in addition to services by officials at our diplomatic missions,” Hayashi said.

The CDPJ members posed questions for a total of over four hours. None of them asked the foreign minister to answer. Kishida answered questions that focused on boosting defense capabilities and LGBT issues.