By Shinpei Okuhara and Tatsuhiko Tamura
Frustrated with the government’s lukewarm response to China’s human rights violations in Hong Kong, Tibet, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, especially in contrast to that of Western nations, Japanese lawmakers are organizing themselves to take a more hardline approach. The legislators are concerned that the government’s failure to grasp the significance of the human rights issues may cause the country to lose its status in the international community and undermine its national interests. These Diet members are moving to formulate a lawmaker-sponsored bill and adopt a Diet resolution against China’s oppression, hoping to prompt the government to respond more decisively to the international crises.
Senior officers of the Japan-Tibet Parliamentary League, a supra-partisan parliamentary group, met on Feb. 4 with leaders of the Tibetan exile government and confirmed that they will take a coordinated approach. The league will convene a general assembly for the first time in several years on Feb.19 to hold a discussion with an eye to introducing a legislator-initiated bill aimed at supporting Tibetan residents and refugees in Japan. “In Hong Kong, Tibet, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the world’s normalcy has been altered,” said the group’s secretary general, Lower House member Nobuyuki Baba of Nippon Ishin no Kai. “The people are being deprived of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law (that they are entitled to).”
The Japan-Uyghur Parliamentary League of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will hold a meeting on Feb. 10 to reaffirm its aim, which is to adopt a resolution to urge China to improve the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Japan Parliamentary Alliance on China (JPAC), another supra-partisan group, also plans to hold a meeting on Feb. 9 to discuss possible sanctions against human rights abuse in Hong Kong and against the Uyghurs.
Many Western governments have issued statements that condemn China’s human rights abuse and taken concrete steps against the country. The UK government announced in January that it will prevent the circulation of products and materials produced by forced labor of the Uyghurs in the British supply chain. The Biden administration made it clear that it will continue the approach of the previous administration, which called the Chinese oppression of the Uyghur “genocide.”
In comparison, Japan’s response against China’s conduct has been slow and lukewarm. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi expressed “serious concern” over China’s oppression of Uyghurs, but fell short of going along with the U.S. in categorizing it as genocide. During an LDP Foreign Affairs Division meeting, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made it clear that Japan will not follow the example of the U.S. Japan’s restrained approach stems partly from the fact that it has not ratified the Genocide Convention that defines the term and stipulates punishment against it.
Some members of the ruling party speculate that the weakness of the government’s response reflects the Suga administration’s desire to maintain an amicable relationship with China. Therefore, “the only path left for us is to go through the legislature,” a veteran LDP lawmaker said.