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Ruling bloc may yield a bit on state secrets bill

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc is wooing the opposition camp this week to reach common ground on the contentious state secrets bill that the administration hopes the Lower House passed by Friday.

The main focus of the discussions is how to introduce a system to check the process for classifying information as secret in the absence of any entity with oversight powers, unlike in the U.S., where there are several such institutions, including Congress.

On Tuesday, the ruling bloc accepted a demand by Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) to add a supplementary clause stating that the government seeks to establish such an oversight mechanism.

The concession was in response to mounting criticism that the bill would allow the government to classify information at officials’ discretion if it is related to defense, diplomacy, counterterrorism or counterintelligence.

Nippon Ishin and the ruling bloc are slated to continue negotiations Wednesday over another issue, the timing for when to declassify secret information.

According to the bill, information would be classified as secret for 30 years, but the Cabinet would be able to extend this, leaving the possibility that some information would never be declassified.

Nippon Ishin originally demanded that the bill stipulate that all secrets be declassified after 30 years, but showed some understanding Tuesday night to the argument by the LDP and New Komeito that some information should be kept under wraps indefinitely, particularly when declassifying such information could endanger lives or diplomatic relations.

The ruling bloc suggested creating another classification period of 60 years, saying that more information could be disclosed after 60 years, than after 30 years, with some exceptions. Nippon Ishin demanded that the ruling bloc come up with a more detailed list of types of information and shorten the list for exceptions.

Meanwhile, Your Party approved several amendments, including obliging the prime minister to devise a guideline to decide the classification and declassification of secrets.

TheDemocratic Party of Japansubmittedbillsto counter the government bill. They call for limiting state secrets to defense and diplomatic information, and for an independent group to monitor the classification process.