Former Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi was dismissed Thursday as chairwoman of the Upper House Environment Committee in the first case of its kind.

The seven opposition parties that together hold a majority in the Upper House passed a resolution to remove Kawaguchi as the panel chief for failing to convene a committee session because last month she extended a visit to China to meet with Yang Jiechi, a state councilor in charge of diplomacy.

The opposition forces, including the Democratic Party of Japan and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), are apparently trying to show off their power in the chamber as the Upper House election draws closer.

Administration officials argued that Kawaguchi met the high-ranking Chinese official to explore ways to ease diplomatic tensions and the opposition parties are ignoring the national interest just to flex their partisan muscles.

“Kawaguchi didn’t neglect her duties or disregard the importance of the Diet. It’s very regrettable that we can’t win the understanding” of the opposition parties, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

A senior official said that the meeting with Yang was a good diplomatic opportunity for Japan, as high-ranking Japanese officials and senior Diet members had been unable to have direct contact with high-ranking Chinese officials due to the recent tension, in particular over the territorial dispute involving the Senkaku islets in the East China Sea.

“No one (from the Japanese side) now can meet senior Chinese officials. It was a very good opportunity,” the official said.

According to a statement on Kawaguchi’s website, she was invited by the Chinese government to meet with Yang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a trip initially planned for April 23 to 24.

After arriving in Beijing, the meeting with Yang was arranged for April 25, while the one with Wang was canceled. She remained in Beijing until April 25, although she did not have the approval of the Upper House for the extension.

“It is a symbolic incident that shows how (quality of) of the opposition parties is declining,” Kawaguchi said at a news conference. “After seriously considering between seeking (what’s best for) the national interest under Japan-China relations and my responsibility as a committee chair, I chose to extend my trip.”

Kawaguchi also said she had started the procedure for seeking an extension for her trip.

The Democratic Party of Japan, Your Party, Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party), Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, Midori no Kaze (Green Wind) and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) jointly submitted and voted for the dismissal resolution.

During an Upper House plenary session, DPJ member Koji Matsui pointed out that the chamber had approved Kawaguchi’s “private trip,” not an official one, and the private trip was extended without approval of the Diet.

“As a result the committee session that was arranged by herself was canceled,” Matsui said. “She is unqualified as chair of the committee.”

Meanwhile New Komeito member Yaichi Nakahara argued that “it’s hard to understand” why opposition parties didn’t approve Kawaguchi’s request to extend the trip.

“I don’t think there’s any rational reasons for not doing that. The opposition parties should explain why they didn’t,” he said. “This is a power struggle for the sake of a power struggle.”

Information from Kyodo added

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