Opinion / Cai Hong

Complacency and arrogance hallmark of Abe's leadership

By Cai Hong (China Daily) Updated: 2017-05-31 07:07

Hideo Onishi, a lawmaker from Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has taken a lot of heat for his remark denigrating cancer patients. LDP lawmaker Junko Mihara had said passive smoking causes pain to employees with cancer during a party discussion on May 15 to regulate passive smoking in Japan's restaurants. In an apparent response, Onishi said cancer patients "do not have to work".

Drawing fire from lawmakers from the opposition as well as his own party, Onishi apologized several days later for "hurting the feelings" of cancer patients. Onishi is the latest in a long line of gaffe-prone Japanese politicians. Some have walked away scot-free by retracting and apologizing for their slips of the tongue.

Japan's Regional Revitalization Minister Kozo Yamamoto apologized after being criticized for calling curators in museums "the No 1 cancer" that needs to be "wiped out" at a seminar on April 16.

But when a politician makes a faux pas, the damage can be huge. At a gathering of the LDP lawmakers in April, Japan's Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura said that thankfully the 2011 devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the country's northeast instead of Tokyo.

The remark was so outrageous that it prompted an apology from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who said they were "hurtful toward people in disaster-stricken areas and incredibly inappropriate". Imamura later retracted his remark, but it failed to save his job. Abe replaced him with a lawmaker from Fukushima prefecture to minimize the damage.

There is no dearth of Japanese politicians making such faux pas. Within weeks of taking office in 2000, former Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori stirred up a hornet's nest by describing Japan as a "divine country" centered on the emperor. The remarks evoked memories of Japan's militarism before and during World War II.

Among former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara's many verbal gaffes was one calling French a "failed" language in 2005 because it "cannot count numbers". A group of French speakers in Japan sued him for "insulting" the language.

At a government meeting on social security reform in 2013, Japanese Vice-Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso said the elderly "should hurry up and die" as they are costing taxpayers huge sums of money in the form of medical care.

Aso also said the Nazis provide a suitable model for efforts to revise Japan's pacifist Constitution. "We should proceed quietly," Aso said. "One day people realized that the Weimar constitution had changed into the Nazi constitution. No one had noticed. Why don't we learn from that approach?"

Aso took a swipe at the country's elderly again in 2016, saying he wondered how much longer a 90-year-old person intends to live.

A politician's gaffe does disservice to foreign relations, too.

In 2016, LDP lawmaker Kazuya Maruyama apologized for calling former US president Barack Obama a descendant of slaves at a meeting of Japan's upper house while trying to make a point about the "dynamic reform" in the United States during a debate on constitutional revision in Japan. Maruyama's statements were widely perceived as racist.

Though gaffes know no political parties, people in the Abe administration and the ruling LDP, which has no immediate rivals, are getting too big for their breeches. After Japan's reconstruction minister Imamura resigned, LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai complained that the country's media "meticulously" record all the remarks made by politicians and demand their resignation if they utter even one improper sentence. "What a situation. We would be better off without them (media)," Nikai said.

Michael Kinsley, the founding editor of the online magazine Slate, once famously defined a gaffe as when a politician tells the truth-not the truth about the world, but a true version of what he/she believes.

By this definition, the spontaneous truth blurted out by some Japanese politicians betrays arrogance and complacency, as the Asahi Shimbun's editorial said, which is the hallmark of Abe's leadership.

The author is China Daily Tokyo bureau chief.

Most Viewed Today's Top News