National / Politics

Abe admits dual citizenship for ministers, officials 'problematic'

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe admitted Thursday that allowing people with dual citizenship to become state ministers and high-ranking government officials was a problem and that the issue should be further probed.

Responding to a question from fellow Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Haruko Arimura during an Upper House budget committee session, Abe said, “Not only diplomats, but foreign ministers, vice foreign ministers and their advisers could also find themselves having to tackle diplomatic negotiations.”

“It’s the prime minister’s job to put the right person in the right position, but even the prime minister undertakes summit diplomacy” and could be open to conflict of interest if they held two passports, he added.

“So I do recognize there is a problem there . . . and I think it should be further probed.”

Public interest in the issue of dual nationality has grown after it emerged last month that newly elected Democratic Party leader Renho had neglected for about 30 years to renounce her Taiwanese citizenship.

During the committee session, Arimura expressed doubt about Japan’s tolerance of dual citizenship for a gamut of security-sensitive jobs — from prime minister, state ministers and Self-Defense Forces servicemen to people who guard the prime minister and the Imperial family.

Currently, the only exception is diplomats, who are banned from holding multiple citizenships to prevent possible conflicts with foreign interests.

Abe has previously said that the question of whether the ban needs to be extended should be left to Diet deliberation, but Arimura further pursued the matter during the committee’s session on Thursday, maintaining that such lenience risked undermining the nation’s ability to combat espionage.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada cautiously agreed, but stopped short of calling for a systemic overhaul.

On Wednesday Arimura stressed that her interest in the matter was not driven by xenophobia or an obsession with racial purity, an apparent defense against charges that a backlash against Renho reflected those sentiments.

Instead, Arimura said her sole concern is Japan’s national security.

She also argued that a failure to put SDF officers, who deal with classified information, on a par with diplomats, who do the same, amounted to a double standard.

The same went for security guards who protect ministers and Imperial family members, she said, adding that the intimate nature of their jobs afforded them ample opportunity to steal a glance at confidential documents or overhear off-the-record conversations.

Special advisers to the prime minister, she said, enjoy unlimited access to the leader’s office, and have intimate knowledge of its structural layout and the technical capabilities of its equipment. They are even familiar with the details of their bosses’ personal health.

“Could these individuals possibly possess dual nationality? Aren’t there fears that sensitive information may be divulged?” Arimura asked.

Speaking at a regular media briefing Thursday afternoon, Renho said that while she understood the arguments put forward by Arimura, she also wanted to stress the importance of diversity.

“It’s true that our nation has become increasingly borderless and that international marriage is no longer uncommon . . . ,’ she said. “I think we also need think about how to embrace diversity.”