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Diet passes bill to create national security council

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to push through tougher security laws are seeing smooth sailing.

In his latest success Wednesday, 10 days before the Diet wraps up its extraordinary session, the bill to establish a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council was passed into law by the Upper House.

This new council is slated to begin operating as early as next week, while its secretariat, consisting of a staff of about 60 and headed by former Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi, will be launched in January under the Cabinet Office.

The government hopes to consolidate the flow of information into the new council by mandating that all ministries and agencies report to it. The council is to produce precise analyses so the prime minister can make sound decisions on national security.

One of the issues with the bill was how to oblige the council to log conference minutes to enhance government transparency. However, the Upper House Special Committee on National Security adopted a provisional resolution that only says the government will consider necessary measures to record the minutes. The resolution does not set a deadline for reaching a decision.

Creating the council has been one of Abe’s main goals since his first stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007. He is also keen to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense.

Under the council, the prime minister, chief Cabinet secretary, foreign minister and defense minister will meet around every two weeks to set defense and diplomatic policies.

The launch should help the government adjust its defense and diplomatic postures amid the escalating tension over the Senkaku Islands, with China on Saturday setting up an East China Sea air defense identification zone in which it is demanding it be notified in advance of any air traffic moving through the area.

Meanwhile, the Upper House started deliberating the state secrets bill Wednesday, one day after the ruling coalition forced it through the Lower House amid calls from all but one of the opposition forces for more deliberation.

Abe believes it is necessary to provide tougher penalties for public servants who leak state-designated secrets as well as people who seek such information using illegal methods in order for the council to function properly.

The opposition camp apart from Your Party protested the move because the vote was held without taking into consideration negative opinions on the bill expressed the day before at a regional public hearing in Fukushima.