Nation better off if Kawashima remains

by Hisahiko Okazaki

I am probably the only person in Japan who will say this at the moment, and I suppose that what I am going to say will fall on deaf ears. But I will say it anyway: Administrative Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Yutaka Kawashima should not be removed from his post. If he is, the sacking is sure to be regretted sometime later.

Of course, I am not against questioning Kawashima and others over their responsibility for failing to supervise Katsutoshi Matsuo, the official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who allegedly embezzled ministry funds for his own private purposes. Also, although they have already been punished for having failed to surprise him, as with any other penalty, debate inevitably is going to continue about the degree of severity.

There is no evidence, however, that the Foreign Ministry was involved in the scandal as an organization. Some irresponsible people have been talking about organizational complicity, but in my experience this charge is quite inconceivable.

After the case began to be reported in newspapers, I met with Kawashima and other senior officials of the Foreign Ministry, and their common response was that the incident was “unbelievable.” “Even if Matsuo did do some pilfering,” they said, “the sum of money is just too big. He must have been involved in some other dishonest act, such as inheritance tax evasion.” And as the details of the incident became clearer, these senior officials showed much annoyance at having been betrayed by a subordinate and, to a man, hoped that the crime would be thoroughly investigated.

They say that some officials, in a bone fide manner, must have received meals and other perks. However, in a status society like the Foreign Ministry — and I am not boasting here — it is quite unthinkable that a senior official would receive perquisites from the accounting section. The fact seems to be that the unprecedented fraud case occurred in the blind spot between the two government offices that have responsibility to supervise expenses relating to overseas trips by the prime minister.

More recently there was a case of leakage of information. In this incident, however, although in terms of international protocol a confidential conversation between the governments of Japan and Australia should remain secret, if the foreign minister makes a statement that differs from the policy of the Japanese government and goes against the intentions of the prime minister, then the content of the conversation definitely should be corrected in some way.

Usually a bureaucrat of the Foreign Ministry who notices the mistake should warn the foreign minister and ask for the statement to be amended. But if the foreign minister is unlikely to heed the advice, let alone listen, the only option was to leak the information. Though I was certainly not an exemplary bureaucrat when I was working in the Foreign Ministry, I myself would probably have done the same and leaked the information.

In the past, Jutaro Komura (1855-1911) saw it as a national humiliation that a draft treaty revision included a clause that foreign judges should be appointed to the Daishinin (the Great Court of Cassation, the highest judicial tribunal under the Meiji Restoration) and leaked the information to the London Times. Komura probably realized that he would not have been able to persuade the foreign minister of the time, Shigenobu Okuma.

To get back to the main point, however, what I want to say is that an organization should not give shabby treatment to human resources that it has carefully groomed over many years.

As a result of the crisis at the London Naval Conference in 1930, one of the turning points in Showa history, the Japanese Navy lost many outstanding personnel, including Vice Minister K. Yamanashi, nominally because it takes two to tango. Speaking of Teikichi Hori, the head of the Military Affairs Bureau, Isoroku Yamamoto, who commanded the Imperial Navy later at the time of Pearl Harbor, asked regretfully, “Which is more important, 10 percent of our large cruiser fleet or Hori?” In view of the fact that Yamamoto’s subsequent efforts to prevent war became a lone battle amid mediocre people who had no opinions of their own and just floated along with the current of the time, the loss of those excellent personnel at that time is truly lamentable.

Having come this far in the discussion, I now cannot help but go into personal details. In recent times, under the principle of equality, ministers have come to be decided by the number of times they have been elected and factional backing rather than by ability and intelligence, the importance of which seems to have sunk into oblivion. I have to say, yet, that among the administrative vice-ministers that I have known over the years, Kawashima possesses the most outstanding analytical ability and insight.

Kawashima always seems to have sorted things out in his mind and to have a clear vision. When he is present, meetings are focused and administrative decisions made smoothly. Thus he always has leeway in terms of time and mental state. And from this leeway comes the calmness that enables him to maintain minimum diplomatic functions even amid the kind of chaos that we have seen recently. It would be a real waste to get rid of a person of this caliber.

I would like to make a rather preposterous and unprecedented suggestion here. which may be extremely painful for both Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka and Kawashima. How about if Kawashima were to be retained in his post as long as Tanaka continues as foreign minister? From Tanaka’s point of view, since no one is perfect, she might perhaps achieve better results as foreign minister if there is someone by her side capable of checking her.

I know that nobody is going to pay any attention to my proposal. But since we do not know how the political situation is going to change, I want people to remember that this option does exist. Because after Kawashima’s dismissal as vice minister, however talented his successor might be, there is a strong possibility that at some time people — perhaps even Tanaka herself — are going to lament, “Ah, if only Kawashima were here!”