With less than two months to go until the new designated state secrets law comes into force, how, exactly, it will work in practice is the subject of extensive debate and concern. Much of the commentary focuses on how the fundamental rights of individuals will be affected.
But municipal and prefectural governments, especially in Kansai, are also concerned about what the new law might mean for local autonomy and access to central government information, and whether that will have repercussions for their residents.
Nationwide, nearly 200 local cities and towns have passed statements condemning the new law. As of September, at least a half dozen assemblies in Kyoto, Nara and Osaka prefectures had voiced their opposition.
One of the largest bodies in Kansai to oppose the new law was Ikoma, in Nara. Ikoma is the main city in the electoral district of Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi, a close ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“What, precisely, is to be designated as secret is not clear, leading to a situation of ‘what will become secret is secret.’ Because of this, even in cases of arrests and prosecutions that are connected to law, it won’t be clear as to why the accused is being arrested or prosecuted because the lawyers won’t be able to reveal the evidence in court,” the city assembly said in June.
Muko, a small city in Kyoto, expressed similar concerns but added that the vague law could also be used to punish public servants who unknowingly release “secret” information, and that not only the mass media but also scholars, researchers, elected representatives, legal professionals and ordinary citizens would be unable to freely collect information under such constraints.
Taro Yamada, a House of Councilors member from Your Party, said that while police departments may be able to get information classified, prefectural governors and assemblies will not have the same privilege. This has created two concerns in Kansai.
The first has to do with information sharing between the local and central governments.
“Kyoto and Osaka in particular host international summits and the like, which require coordination between local authorities and the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry, the National Police Agency, and other central government organs. Communication between Kansai and national officials can be difficult because too often local authorities are given only the minimum of information by central government officials,” said one Kyoto municipal official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Under the new law, the central government now has an excuse and can say, ‘Sorry, that’s a state secret’ if local officials get angry about being left out of the loop,” the official said.
The second cause of concern in Kansai has to do with nuclear power.
Fukui Prefecture’s 13 commercial reactors, including 11 operated by Kansai Electric Power Co., provide electricity to the region. But Kyoto and Osaka are also home to groups of anti-nuclear protesters who are well-organized and tenacious compared with other parts of the country.
At anti-nuclear rallies in both cities, police keep close tabs on those participating. Under the secrets law, such demonstrations might be considered a threat to national security. Anti-nuclear groups in Kansai and nationwide fear that official harassment will grow against anyone who speaks out against atomic power, and that the officials and their minions will then hide behind the law if and when they are sued in the Osaka or Kyoto district courts.
Additionally, though not the issue it is elsewhere, some Kansai leaders have expressed concern about what the new law means for keeping tabs on Self-Defense Forces or U.S. military activity in the region.
As both countries deepen cooperation under the new collective self-defense stance adopted by the Cabinet in July, there is local concern that obtaining information on U.S. military operations, one of the main areas targeted by the state secrets law, will become more difficult.
“At a military base in Kyotango, Kyoto Prefecture, the United States has installed X-band radar for tracking ballistic missiles. But what the effect of radio waves from the radar might be is unknown. Even if we ask, the government won’t provide the information under the new law,” said Ryoichi Hattori, an Osaka-based activist who opposes the secrets law.
The town of Sennan, Osaka Prefecture, near Kansai airport, has already expressed opposition to any attempt by the U.S. military to use it. Any plans by Tokyo or Washington to operate more radar installations in Kansai is sure to be met by local opposition not only from traditional anti-base activists, but also from residents whose attitude is “not in my backyard.”
But if information on plans for joint training exercises turns out to be designated a state secret, Tokyo and Washington may find that even those national politicians and political parties who back the security alliance in public may constantly urge caution when it comes to specific operational plans that run the risk of further inflaming residents, and local assemblies, in Kansai or anywhere else.
Especially if they are already angry because the plans can’t be made public.
At present, most Kansai politicians in the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling coalition and their corporate backers support the state secrets law. At the same time, the region’s traditional attitude of independence from Tokyo, combined with fierce local pride, mean that towns, cities and leaders, regardless of party ties, are less likely to simply accept excuses about national security if the information local residents want is not made available.
Kansai Perspective appears on the fourth Monday of each month, focusing on Kansai-area developments and events of national importance with a Kansai connection.
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