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Tokyo silent as Trump immigration ban sparks global outcry

by and

Staff Writers

In sharp contrast to the outpouring of condemnation by leaders across the globe, top Japanese officials declined to comment on the tightened immigration policy of U.S. President Donald Trump, calling the move a domestic affair.

“We are not in a position to express the view of the Japanese government” on Trump’s executive order, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an Upper House session Monday. “At any rate, we believe the international community should jointly cope with refugee issues.”

Abe, who like all of Japan’s postwar prime ministers has based most of his key security and diplomatic policies on the military alliance with the United States, has not openly criticized any of Trump’s controversial policies and remarks on immigration issues thus far.

On Saturday, the two leaders spoke over the phone and agreed to meet Feb. 10 in Washington. They also agreed to “send out a message to the world” to affirm “the unshakable Japan-U.S. relationship” through their meeting, Abe told the Upper House.

Abe’s cautious response to the contentious immigration policy also comes ahead of new U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis’ first trip abroad as Pentagon chief. He will come to Japan, as well as South Korea, on a trip widely seen as a nod to the importance of Asia security ties.

Also on Monday, the transport ministry said Japan has not taken any measures in response to Trump’s order to restrict the entry of citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

Officials say there are no Japanese laws that can prevent foreign travelers from going to the U.S., except for illegal immigrants (including visa overstayers) and suspects for whom an arrest warrant has been issued.

As of Monday afternoon, the government said it had not heard of any foreign travelers who had departed from Japan and had been denied entry by the U.S., a senior transport ministry official said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Abe’s right-hand man, said Japanese carriers are studying how they will handle the issue since airlines are obliged to return foreign travelers departing Japan if they are denied entry to the U.S. because of Trump’s executive order.

Major carriers Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways decided later Monday that they will refuse U.S.-bound passengers from any of the seven Muslim-majority countries, except for diplomats and those with permanent resident status in the United States. Both airlines will refund those passengers.

Suga echoed Abe, arguing that Japan should not interfere in the issue.

“That’s precisely a matter that must be handled by the U.S. government. The (Japanese) government will refrain from commenting on it,” Suga told reporters during a news conference.

“In general, issues involving refugees and anti-terrorism measures are on the agenda to be tackled by the world,” he said.

Despite the government’s cautious tone, Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO of Japan’s largest e-shopping mall operator, Rakuten Inc., blasted the immigration policy Monday in a Twitter message.

“I am very sad to see what is happening now in the US. I came to US when I was seven and I really respect big American big heart,” the Harvard-educated businessman wrote in English.

People should not be uniformly discriminated against “based on religion and nationality,” Mikitani added.

“We will make sure we will support our Muslim staff members as a company and personally as well,” he wrote.