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Ruling bloc may yield on state secrets bill

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Eager to see its state secrecy bill passed by the Lower House next week, the ruling coalition is showing signs of giving ground on the controversial legislation.

The ruling bloc met with Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) on Wednesday to discuss several possible changes to the bill, including the formation of an independent group to oversee the classification process. The Osaka-based party also wants state secrets to be limited to defense-related information and declassified after 30 years without exception.

Under the current bill, no such independent panel is envisioned, prompting concern that the government can classify information at its discretion. The bill reclassifies information related to defense, diplomacy, counterterrorism and counterintelligence as state secrets but sets no detailed criteria for classification or declassification.

The bill also makes it possible to extend renewable five-year classification periods indefinitely, even, with Cabinet approval, beyond the 30-year limit set for state secrets.

Sakihito Ozawa, head of Nippon Ishin’s Diet affairs committee, said Wednesday the party would not vote for the bill unless the ruling bloc accepts its demands.

The bill is aimed at keeping tighter rein on national security-related information for a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council, amid the worsening security climate in Asia. The government also hopes to have the security council bill passed in the current Diet session ending Dec. 6.

With a comfortable majority in both chambers of the Diet, the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, could pass the bill on their own. But doing so risks a backlash from a public fearful of losing its constitutional right to know.

According to a recent Asahi Shimbun poll, 68 percent of respondents are fearful of the expansion of state secrets, while only 20 percent agree the bill must be passed in the current Diet session.

While against the bill, the opposition camp is not in lockstep. Your Party is hammering out an amendment proposal, while the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, is expected to enter talks with the ruling camp over a possible amendment.

The DPJ, which expedited discussion of the state secrecy bill when it was in power, is especially concerned that the Diet maintain its function as a check on government, balking at giving it the authority to classify information unilaterally.

This condition, however, is not satisfactory to other opposition forces, such as the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, which say such an amendment doesn’t alter the bill’s basic infringement of the right to know.

“The bill is so fundamentally flawed that it cannot be rescued by any amendments. It should be completely scrapped,” former SDP chief Mizuho Fukushima told reporters Thursday.