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Inhae reads the news: February 2020

Welcome to a new article in my series “Inhae reads the news (in Japanese!)”.

In this series, I compare editorials from different newspapers and study some passages. As I mentioned it last month, I find extremely interesting to compare what conservative and left-wing newspapers say on the same topic. I will read editorials from the following newspapers (links to the list of editorials):

I will choose topics on which at least three of these newspapers have written an editorial. I will also limit myself to three topics per month because reading the news in Japanese and writing this post still take me a lot of time.

As always, I have to warn you that there might be mistakes in my translations as well as in my understanding of the social/political issues I talk about. This post is like a personal notebook where I try to improve my reading skills in Japanese, my knowledge of current issues, and my English!

This month’s topics:

  • Japanese destroyer left for the Middle East
  • Abe’s heckling and the role of the Diet
  • Tsukasa Akimoto released on bail

(Of course, this month’s main topic for all newspapers was the coronavirus, but I was tired to read about it so I deliberately chose other themes.)

Japanese destroyer left for the Middle East

Several newspapers have devoted an editorial to the dispatch of the MSDF (Maritime Self Defense Force) destroyer Takanami to the Middle East. The destroyer will join an ongoing intelligence gathering mission. The government said that the mission’s purpose is to ensure the safety of ships trading with Japan in the Middle East region, especially oil tankers that deliver oil to Japan.

Yomiuri: 海自艦中東へ 円滑な部隊運用の態勢整えよ
Mainichi: 海自護衛艦が中東へ 「一般化」してはならない
Tokyo: 自衛隊中東派遣 国会の関与が不十分だ

Useful vocabulary and persons involved:

海上自衛隊かいじょうじえいたいMaritime Self-Defense Force
護衛艦ごえいかんdestroyer, escort vessel
情報収集じょうほうしゅうしゅうintelligence gathering
出航しゅっこうdeparture, setting sail
船舶せんぱくvessel, ship
せきcounter for ships, vessels
通航するつうこうsail, navigate
派遣するはけんdispatch, deploy
航行するこうこうnavigate, sail
船籍せんせきthe nationality of a ship
艦艇かんていwar vessels
閣議決定かくぎけっていCabinet decision
武力衝突ぶりょくしょうとつmilitary conflict
駐留ちゅうりゅうstationing (troops)
河野太郎 Taro Kono
Minister of Defense
Member of the House of Representatives, LDP

First, Yomiuri starts by justifying the dispatch of the vessel:

日本は原油輸入の大半を中東に依存している。年間3000隻超の日本関連の船舶が、中東の海域を通航する。政府が自衛隊を派遣し、海上交通路の安全確保に主体的にかかわるのは当然だ。

Japan relies on the Middle East for the majority of its imports in oil. More than 3000 vessels [commercially] related to Japan sail through the territorial waters of the Middle East per year. It is only natural that the government should actively engage in preserving the security of the commercial maritime routes and deploy the Self-Defense Force.

It then explains that the MSDF alone will only have a limited range of action. The major concern for the Japanese government is the protection of the oil tankers that provide Japan in oil and sail through the Middle East. But if these tankers were attacked, the destroyer would not be able to defend them, being officially in a mission of research (調査・研究). The government could then issue an order for “海上警備行動”, but even then the destroyer would only be able to protect Japanese ships. The Yomiuri underlines the necessity to prepare for any scenario.

If I understand it correctly, the 海上警備行動 can be ordered by the Defense Minister if the security of Japanese lives or properties are being threatened. It allows the MSDF to take necessary actions to maintain security, but I don’t know concretely what it means. The last time the 海上警備行動 was issued was in 2009, against piracy off the coast of Somalia. (see Wikipedia)

The Yomiuri never mentions that the decision to deploy the MSDF in the Middle East was taken by the Cabinet only, without going through the Diet. This is a major point of criticism for left-wing newspapers.

Mainichi and Tokyo both acknowledge the importance to ensure the safety of commercial ships, but they criticise the way the decision was taken. Mainichi says:

武装した実力部隊の海外派遣という重い政治判断だ。国会の徹底した議論を経るべきなのに、政府は昨年12月に閣議決定し、1月10日に河野太郎防衛相が派遣命令を出した。

Deploying an armed force to foreign seas is a heavy political decision. It should have gone through thorough discussions in the Diet, but the government has made the decision through Cabinet discussions in last December, and on January 10th Defense Minister Taro Kono ordered the dispatch.

Tokyo also underlines the fact that the dispatch has been decided by the Cabinet only:

国民を代表する国会の議決を経ず、閣議のみの決定でもある。国会の関与が不十分ではないか。

The decision was taken by the Cabinet only, without going through the vote of the Diet that represents the people. Isn’t the participation of the Diet insufficient?

Normally, the dispatch of the SDF is limited by the Constitution. However, it now looks like the government can dispatch troops anytime under the flag of “research” and without going through Diet deliberations.

Mainichi insists on this point:

ただし、自衛隊は憲法上、海外での武力行使が禁じられ、危険な地域・海域への派遣には法的な制約がある。いつでもどこでも調査・研究で派遣できることになれば、なし崩し的に「普通の軍隊」に近づく。

But, in the Constitution, the Self-Defense Force is forbidden to use weapons in foreign seas, and its deployment in dangerous territories and maritime territories is restricted by the law. If we can deploy forces when we want and where we want under the flag of “research”, we are gradually getting closer to a regular army.

Tokyo voices a similar concern:

調査・研究を根拠とし、国会の審議や議決を経ない海外派遣が、今後、行われない確証はない。

There is no guarantee that there won’t be other dispatches in foreign seas that are for research and do not pass through deliberations and resolutions in the Diet.

Even though Abe assured that this kind of dispatch will not be generalised, it still creates a precedent (先例) as Asahi, who also devoted an editorial to this topic, points out.

Abe’s heckling and the role of the Diet

On February 12th, during a Lower House Budget Committee session, Abe heckled the lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto saying that her questions were meaningless. She was tackling Abe on several points of controversy like the Cherry Blossom Party or the Mori-Kake scandals and ended her questions by saying: 鯛(たい)は頭から腐る。(The right way of saying it would have been 魚は頭から腐る, it apparently comes from a Russian proverb. Kiyomi Tsujimoto used 鯛 instead of 魚 and apparently, there have been some discussions about the meaning of it.)

In any case, this is when Abe heckled her with his 意味のない質問だよ.

Several newspapers are concerned about the role of the Diet.

Sankei: 首相のやじと野党 国会の機能不全は論外だ
Asahi: 荒涼たる国会 安倍首相の責任は重い
Tokyo: 首相のやじ 国会を冒涜する暴言だ

Useful vocabulary and persons involved:

猛省を促すもうせいを うながすurge sb to reconsider seriously
懲罰動議ちょうばつどうぎ(pass) a motion to discipline
罵詈雑言ばりぞうごんabusive language
締めくくるしめくくるconclude, bring to a conclusion
采配さいはいcommand (so’s command)
弊害へいがいabuse, evil practice
独善どくぜんself-complacency, self-flattery
辻元清美 Kiyomi Tsujimoto
Member of the House of Representatives
Member of the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP)

Sankei starts its editorial by establishing what the Diet stands for and by expressing concerns that today’s Diet is different:

日本が直面する重要な問題を論じ、法律をつくり、危機を乗り越えていく方策を打ち立てるのが国会の本来の役割であるはずなのに、一向にそうなっていない。

The original role of the Diet should be to discuss important problems that Japan is encountering, to make the law and to establish measures to overcome crisis, but it is not the case at all.

The article then directly criticises Abe for his attitude during the Lower House Budget Committee session. It says that Abe later defended himself saying that Kiyomi Tsujimoto had used abusive language against him, but Sankei continues:

だが、一国の首相が野党議員の非難に腹を立ててやじを飛ばすのはみっともない。

But it is shameful to see the Prime Minister of a country heckle a lawmaker of the opposition because he got angry at her criticism.

Asahi starts its editorial with similar concerns, saying that the present situation in the Diet is far from what it should be.

建設的な議論を通じて、よりよい結論を導きだす。そんな「言論の府」のあるべき姿からほど遠い光景が続いていることに暗然とする

It is sad to see incidents repeat themselves that are far from the the “bastion of free speech” [the Diet] should be: reach better decisions through constructive debates.

This passage is very difficult to translate… I get the idea, but it is hard to stay close to the Japanese, and I cannot find a good way to translate 言論の府. My dictionary suggests “forum for free speech” or “bastion of free speech”. I chose the one that sounded the most dramatic, but I feel that Asahi means more “discussions” and “debate” rather than “free speech”.

Asahi also mentions that Abe never really answered the questions of the opposition concerning the Cherry Blossom Party, thus implying that Kiyomi Tsujimoto’s questions were justified and certainly not “meaningless”.

Tokyo also criticise Abe’s attitude and express worries concerning the role of the Diet:

つまり国会は議員の質問に答える場であって、政府による反論や宣伝の場ではない。たとえ相手が野党でも、首相らが最大の敬意を払って審議に臨むべきは当然だ。

In short, the Diet is the place to answer the questions of the members, it is not the place for the government to make its campaign and refutations. Even if the other person belongs to the opposition, it is only right and proper that the Prime Minister and others should face the discussions with the utmost respect.

Abe said that he only reacted to what he considers to be “罵詈雑言” or abusive language. But Tokyo points out that Tsujimoto’s questions were not “abusive”, but rather a discourse that hit its target: 罵詈雑言ではなく的を射た発言だ, especially concerning the Moritomo and Kake scandals and, more recently, the problem of the Cherry Blossom Party.

Finally, Tokyo insists on the fact that such an attitude towards the opposition threatens the democracy. Abe’s heckling is described as a 議会制民主主義を危うくする暴言である (harsh language that threatens the representative democracy), and the newspaper later insists on the necessity to take a severe course of action against this 議会制民主主義を脅かす政府の言動 (speech and conduct from the government that threatens the representative democracy).

Tsukasa Akimoto released on bail

Tsukasa Akimoto, who was a key figure in the legalisation of casino in Japan, had been charged with bribery and arrested. He is accused of having received a total of ¥7.6 million from the China company 500.com. Tsukasa Akimoto has been released on bail and gave a press conference in which he denied all the accusations against him.

Sankei: 秋元被告の会見 事件への認識が甘すぎる
Mainichi: 秋元衆院議員の保釈 国会でカジノ事件説明を
Tokyo: 秋元議員とIR 国会で真相を究明せよ

Useful vocabulary and persons involved

統合型リゾートとうごうがたリゾートIntegrated Resort
汚職おしょくcorruption, bribery
収賄罪しゅうわいざいthe offense of taking bribes
保釈ほしゃくbail (release on bail)
起訴きそprosecution
賄賂わいろa bribe
贈賄ぞうわいbribery
解禁かいきんremoval of a ban
喚問かんもんa summons
証人喚問しょうにんかんもんa summons to a witness
追起訴ついきそsubsequent indictment
証拠隠滅しょうこいんめつdestruction of evidence
秋元司: Tsukasa Akimoto
Member of the House of the Representatives
Former member of the LDP

Mainichi and Tokyo both want Akimoto to explain himself in the Diet. They both mention that, quite often, lawmakers who find themselves in the midst of scandals do not give proper explanations. The two newspapers express a similar thought:

Mainichi: 国民の代表であるならば、国会での説明に背を向けるべきではない。

If the Diet represents the people, then [lawmakers] should not refuse to give an explanation in the Diet.

Tokyo: 国民を代表する国会議員として、国会の場で説明する責任があるのではないか。

The members of the Diet are representing the people. As such, don’t they have the responsibility to explain themselves in the Diet?

Sankei criticises Akimoto’s explanation during the press conference. Akimoto received brand-name goods from 500.com, but to deny the fact that these were gifts, he says that he intended to repay the Chinese firm back with meals or other means. Sankei says:

ただし会見で明らかになったのは秋元被告の事件に対する認識の甘さである。「後で返そうと思っていた」などの言い訳は幼稚ですらある。

But what was made clear during the press conference is Akimoto’s lax perception of the case. Justifications like “I intended to pay it back later” can even be said to be childish.

Sankei also points out that Akimoto was released on bail on the condition that he does not get in contact with the other members of the House of Representatives suspected of having received bribes from the Chinese firm. Given that he wants to resume his duties at the Diet, it will be difficult to guarantee that they don’t get in touch. The newspaper then adds:

口裏合わせなどによる証拠隠滅の可能性を排除できないなかでの早期の保釈決定にも疑問が残る。

Given that we cannot rule out the possibility that Akimoto destroys evidence that contradict the story arranged beforehand, doubts remain concerning [the legitimacy of] the decision to release him early on bail.

It is interesting to note that Sankei is very critical against Akimoto, the bribery scandal and the fact that he was released on jail so rapidly. But interestingly, Sankei does not question the process of deliberations that led to the legalisation of casinos.

On the contrary, both Mainichi and Tokyo point out that if the officials in charge of the IR bill were corrupted, it is only fair to ask if the discussions surrounding the legalisation of casinos were just. Mainichi says:

事件を受けて、カジノ解禁の是非が今国会で改めて問われている。秋元議員は、法整備を進めた政府の責任者の一人だった。

With this case, the pros and cons of the legalisation of casinos is again questioned in the Diet. Akimoto was one of the officials responsible for the developments of the legislation.

Tokyo lists the points of discord concerning the law on Integrated Resorts like the risk of dependance and the scepticism concerning its effects on the economy. It then adds:

 秋元被告が賄賂を受け取ったとされる前だが、法案審議が正しく行われたのか。汚職事件を機に国会が自ら検証する必要がある。

This was before Akimoto allegedly received bribes, but were the deliberations surrounding the IR bill conducted lawully? The Diet must take the opportunity of this affair of corruption to make its own inspection.

I recognise とされる as one of the N1 grammar points I learned last year, but I am still not sure about this translation. I also don’t know how to understand 自ら…

Conclusion

Comparing what different newspapers say about the same topic is extremely interesting, as well as seeing what they choose to talk about in the editorials. While left-wing newspapers regularly talk about scandals like the Cherry Blossom Party, I noted that, this month, only the conservative newspapers (Yomiuri and Sankei) have written an editorial for 竹島の日 (a topic of dispute with South Korea). I was also surprised to see that Sankei, though a conservative paper, could be very critical of Abe and the government. In this respect, it differs from the Yomiuri which seems to only repeat what the government says. On the contrary, all three left-wing newspapers tend to be similar, though when it comes to criticising the government, Tokyo seems to be the most radical, followed by Mainichi and then Asahi. I guess that the more I read, the better I will understand each newspaper’s position.

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