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Secrecy Bill Could Distance Japan From Its Postwar Pacifism (NYT)

 A protester was removed by security officers after Japan’s lower house of Parliament passed a national secrets act on Tuesday.     By MARTIN FACKLER


A protester was removed by security officers after Japan’s lower house of Parliament passed a national secrets act on Tuesday.
By MARTIN FACKLER

TOKYO — Brushing past angry street protests and apocalyptic editorials in leading newspapers, Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, appears set to achieve one of the first items on his legislative agenda to roll back his nation’s postwar pacifism: passing a national secrets law.

The secrecy bill, which sped through the lower house of Parliament on Tuesday and is expected to pass the upper house soon, is considered an initial step in Mr. Abe’s efforts to turn Japan into what some here call a more “normal” nation, with fewer restrictions on its ability to protect itself and able to assume a greater regional role.

The measure, along with the creation of an American-style National Security Council approved this week, would strengthen the prime minister’s hand in a crisis.

Mr. Abe has said that tighter controls of state secrets were needed to plug holes in Japan’s protection of information and, most important, to persuade the United States to share more of its sensitive military intelligence. With China’s rise and increasing assertiveness, Mr. Abe has been leading Japan to become a more full-fledged military ally of the United States.

But the secrecy bill has quickly become a lightning rod for opponents, many in the news media and at universities, who fear that it gives too much discretion to the nation’s powerful bureaucrats to decide what is a state secret and allows a famously opaque government to provide even less information to the public. Many have warned that the bill could lead to abuses of power by the government, and some critics have gone so far as to compare it to much more draconian prewar laws that placed severe restrictions on speech, and ultimately allowed the military to drag Japan into World War II.

“Japan doesn’t have the strong tradition of freedom of speech, as our recent history shows,” said Yasuhiko Tajima, a professor of media law at Sophia University in Tokyo. “Allowing bureaucrats to declare whatever they want to be state secrets would make us no different than dictatorships like North Korea and China.”

One of the biggest criticisms of the bill is that its definition of secrets is too vague and broad. The current wording gives the heads of government agencies the power to declare information off limits if it touches on such sensitive national security areas as diplomacy, defense and antiterrorism policy. Those found guilty of leaking these secrets could face up to 10 years in prison, far longer than under Japan’s current laws.

The secrecy bill was submitted in tandem with the bill to create a National Security Council that Parliament approved this week.

Political analysts say the twin measures are the first steps in a legislative agenda that could eventually see Mr. Abe try to fulfill his long-held goal of revising his nation’s antiwar Constitution to allow for a fully developed military instead of purely defensive forces — still a controversial idea in Japan.

“This legal framework is needed for the proper functioning of a new N.S.C. that can serve as a command center for national security strategy,” said an editorial last month in Yomiuri Shimbun, a conservative newspaper that has long served as a mouthpiece for Mr. Abe’s governing Liberal Democratic Party.

Taking advantage of the party’s control of both houses of Parliament, Mr. Abe, who had promised to end the country’s long political paralysis, sped the secrecy bill through the lower house in less than three weeks, and then into the upper house.

The speed, however, has left opponents feeling steamrollered, feeding fears that the secrecy bill poses a threat to Japanese democracy and inspiring bitter complaints that Mr. Abe was breaking from Japan’s tradition of building political consensus for major changes.

“We saw the iron fist of the Abe cabinet under its velvet glove,” said Banri Kaieda, the leader of Japan’s largest opposition, the Democratic Party, after Tuesday’s secrecy bill vote.

Some of the most vocal concerns were raised by residents of the region around the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of the evacuated town of Namie, noted at a hearing Monday — the only public hearing on the bill — that the government’s failure to release forecasts of the direction of radioactive releases during the accident two years ago allowed his townspeople to unknowingly flee into the plume. He warned that the bill would strengthen the government’s demonstrated tendency to keep vital information secret in a crisis.

Some of the most vocal concerns were raised by residents of the region around the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of the evacuated town of Namie, noted at a hearing Monday — the only public hearing on the bill — that the government’s failure to release forecasts of the direction of radioactive releases during the accident two years ago allowed his townspeople to unknowingly flee into the plume. He warned that the bill would strengthen the government’s demonstrated tendency to keep vital information secret in a crisis.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/29/world/asia/secrecy-bill-could-distance-japan-from-its-postwar-pacifism.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2

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