The following is the gist of representative interpellations at the House of Councillors plenary session on Jan. 26:
Natsuo Yamaguchi (Komeito): It’s extremely important for the international community to unite against North Korea and pave the way for a solution through dialogue by discouraging Pyongyang from developing nuclear weapons while enhancing the effectiveness of sanctions.
Japan should play an active role as an intermediary between the nuclear and non-nuclear powers and produce results in nuclear disarmament. Last November, a conference of international experts from both nuclear and non-nuclear nations was held in Hiroshima. I hope a realistic and practical roadmap will be formulated.
We are calling for the implementation of regulations that place limits on overtime work hours and impose penalties as well as the early passage of a bill related to work-style reforms that includes promoting the use of a “working-hour interval system,” which is designed to ensure that workers have a certain amount of time off between the time they leave the workplace and the next time they report to work.
Yukihisa Fujita (Democratic Party, Shinryokufukai group): North Korea has the capability to deliver a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland. Has the government confirmed whether U.S. President Donald Trump is willing to retaliate on behalf of Japan regardless of the damage to his own people? There is a possibility that the U.S. will meet China and North Korea halfway and strike a deal to give a tacit nod of approval to medium-range nuclear [missiles] without consulting with Japan.
The Moritomo Gakuen scandal seems to be the result of sontaku [the pre-emptive, placatory following of an order that has not been given] for the sake of a “friend.” The public is not convinced by the government’s explanations at all. What is Prime Minister Abe’s view on how to dispel such suspicions?
Akira Koike (Japanese Communist Party): Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been taking a hostile view toward Article 9 of the Constitution and accumulating destructions of the Constitution, enacting the national security and other bills by force of numbers. Many people are looking at such an attitude with anxiety and concern, and opinion polls show that many people are “opposed to constitutional amendment under the Abe government.”
With regard to a regulation that places a cap on working hours, why does the government propose a cap of 100 hours of overtime a month? The government’s proposal is tantamount to “legalizing karoshi [death from overwork.]”
Joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would be helpful in urging North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. It is the responsibility for the government of the only country in the world to have suffered wartime atomic bombings to break with the nuclear deterrence theory and make moves to abolish nuclear weapons by legally banning them.
Toranosuke Katayama (Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party)): South Korea has begun dialogue with North Korea by using the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games as a springboard. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the Japan-South Korea agreement on the comfort women issue is “unacceptable” and requested that the Japanese government take additional measures. Japan should urge South Korea to honor the agreement at a Japan-South Korea summit meeting.
China has continued to keep Japan and Southeast Asia in check by intruding into foreign territorial waters. There have been signs of improvement in the Japan-Sino relations, but has the mutually beneficial strategic relationship achieved any results?
If (Prime Minister Abe is) re-elected for the third time (in the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election in autumn this year), a debate will certainly emerge over his successor. What is the prime minister’s view on his successor?
Yoshifumi Matsumura (Liberal Democratic Party, Party for Japanese Kokoro): Prime Minister Abe said in his policy speech that he “wants to calibrate what defense capabilities are truly needed, instead of just following precedent” in the updated National Defense Program Guidelines. But what kinds of policies will the prime minister adhere to in drawing up the new National Defense Program Guidelines and Midterm Defense Buildup Plan?
Mizuho Fukushima (Hope Coalition (Kibou) = Liberal Party, Social Democratic Party): Despite a series of accidents in Okinawa, U.S. military aircraft flew over an elementary school immediately afterward. How long will such disregard for human life continue?
Why does the ocean that is home to a precious coral reef have to be destroyed to build a new base in Henoko (in Okinawa’s Nago City)?
Tetsuro Fukuyama (Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan): The Abe government has suddenly decided to deploy long-range cruise missiles and been considering turning the escort vessel Izumo into an aircraft carrier. There are concerns that these plans may violate Japan’s exclusively defense-oriented policy that has been pursued by the country, including past LDP governments. How will the government ensure consistency with its past explanations?
Major global companies have begun making commitments to use “100% renewable energy.” The government’s stance of turning a blind eye to reactor decommissioning and processing of spent nuclear fuel is irresponsible in light of the global trend and the reality of Fukushima.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s responses
(Responding to Yamaguchi) I commend South and North Korea for launching dialogue to ensure that the PyeongChang Winter Olympics will be a success. But at the same time, North Korea continues to conduct nuclear and missile development. In light of the fact that North Korea has violated its pledges to denuclearize in the past, dialogue for the sake of dialogue is meaningless. I will attend the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympics and hold a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. I will directly tell him that South Korea should not deviate from the policy of stepping up the pressure on North Korea to the maximum level in order to force it to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.
(Responding to Fujita) North Korea is the one that is engaging in provocations. Participating in a debate about the possibility of North Korea going berserk will simply boost the country’s negotiating power. Japan and the U.S. are 100% united on the North Korea issue. I will enhance the deterrence capability of the Japan-U.S. alliance and protect the people’s lives and peaceful existence in any situation.
Japan-South Korea relations
(Responding to Katayama) The Japan-South Korea agreement on the comfort women issue is indispensable for building a future-oriented relationship. South Korea’s unilateral request for additional measures is absolutely unacceptable. Honoring pledges is an international and universal principle.
(Responding to Katayama) I will resolutely and calmly deal with the situation surrounding the Senkaku Islands (in Okinawa Prefecture.) This year marks the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the Japan-China Peace and Friendship Treaty, so I want to make this a year in which people in both countries are able to recognize major improvements in Sino-Japanese relations. I also want to raise the relations to a new level through continued reciprocal visits by high-level officials.
(Responding to Koike) I will listen carefully to the people’s opinions and take them seriously. On the other hand, there is an opinion poll which shows more than 60% of people think discussions on constitutional amendment should be moved forward. I want people to listen to these opinions as well without eliminating them.
(Responding to Yamaguchi) Representatives of the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took part in the conference of international experts from both nuclear and non-nuclear nations to discuss ways to advance nuclear disarmament. I hope that meaningful proposals will be produced through active discussions.
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
(Responding to Koike) Maintaining the U.S.’s deterrence capability with nuclear weapons is imperative. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons denies nuclear deterrence itself and there are no prospects for North Korea to join the treaty. The Japanese government cannot participate in the treaty.
(Responding to Yamaguchi) Rectifying long working hours will improve employees’ work-life balance. That will make it easier for women and older people to be employed and make it easier for men to be involved in child-rearing.
(Responding to Koike) I will ensure that the tragedies of karoshi and karoshi-driven suicide will not be repeated.
Incoming LDP president
(Responding to Katayama) It is my responsibility to implement the policies that I have pledged. I do not have any thoughts about the future beyond that at this moment.
(Responding to Fujita) Neither I nor my wife, not to mention my office, were involved in the case whatsoever.
National Defense Program Guidelines
(Responding to Matsumura) It is no exaggeration to say that the security environment surrounding Japan is the severest it has ever been since the end of World War II, as North Korea has become a serious and imminent threat like never before. Capitalizing on new areas, such as cyberspace and outer space, is becoming important. It is no longer sufficient to think based on the conventional domains of land, sea, and air.
Exclusively defensive posture
(Responding to Fukuyama) We have never specifically considered turning the escort vessel Izumo into an aircraft carrier. We will deploy long-range cruise missiles for effective defense while securing the safety of the members of the Self-Defense Forces. The missiles are also very important for island defense. I remain committed to maintaining an exclusively defense-oriented policy while adhering to the three nonnuclear principles as a government policy.
Okinawa base issues
(Responding to Fukushima) I fully understand the feelings of the people of Okinawa and take them sincerely. I will give top priority to ensuring their safety. The complete return of Futenma airfield, which is located in the city center, is an issue requiring immediate attention. We should definitely prevent the Futenma base from becoming a permanent fixture. This is a common understanding shared by the central government and Okinawa. If the Futenma relocation to Henoko (in Nago City) is achieved, aircraft flight paths will be moved to over the ocean and safety will improve dramatically.
Policy on nuclear power
(Responding to Fukuyama) Setting a goal of zero reliance on nuclear power cannot be said to be a responsible energy policy in view of the cost of electricity prices and dealing with climate change. The Abe cabinet’s consistent policy is to strive for the maximum use of renewable energy. We will also make serious efforts toward reactor decommissioning and the processing of spent nuclear fuel.