Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Monday fought back against speculation that the rejection of six scholars to the Science Council of Japan is attributed to their criticism of national security legislation approved under then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“(The appointment) has nothing to do with academic freedom. Isn’t that obvious no matter how you look at it?” the prime minister said in an interview with news organizations at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Suga’s remark Monday night was the first time he officially addressed the issue at length. The story was first reported by Japan Communist Party’s bulletin Akahata last Thursday. He only said the decision is consistent with the law Friday evening when asked by a reporter about it.

Prime ministers have been approving Science Council of Japan members as recommended by the organization, which falls under the jurisdiction of the nation’s top leader but runs independently from the government. The method, based on the law governing the organization, has been adopted in 2004. The council makes policy proposals and is known as a prominent representative organization for Japanese scientists. Its total member count is 210 and half are shuffled out every three years.

But breaking away from precedent, Suga did not name six of the 105 people recommended, raising concerns among academics and the public that the administration is attempting to flex its muscle to weed out scholars who are against the government’s policies. The six scholars have decried contentious anti-conspiracy and national security legislation, which passed the Diet while Abe was prime minister.

Although Suga yet again declined to comment on the rationale behind the rejection of those six scholars Monday evening, he questioned the validity of the appointment process, saying he has been thinking “whether it’d be appropriate to follow the precedent of appointing all of those who are recommended.”

“The Science Council of Japan is a government organization and operates with a roughly ¥1 billion budget annually,” Suga said. “And appointed members become public servants. Besides, current members are essentially able to name their successors under the current framework, even though there’s a framework like the recommendation council.”

During the half-hour interview, the prime minister weighed in on the system glitch that halted the Tokyo, Sapporo and Fukuoka stock exchanges for an entire day last week on Thursday. Describing the system failure as “regrettable,” he called on Japan Exchange Group, Inc. and the Tokyo Stock Exchange to investigate the cause and adopt “perfect” preventative measures, noting that the Financial Services Agency also needs to inquire as to why the incident took place.

Suga is envisioning transforming the country into a key international financial hub in Asia — an apparent effort to present itself as an alternative to Hong Kong, which has been under intense scrutiny by Beijing. The prime minister told reporters that the administration is determined to clear restrictions pertaining to taxation and immigration to bring in talent into the financial sector and “build an appropriate infrastructure,” noting last week’s system glitch.

He also talked about his upcoming visit to Indonesia and Vietnam slated later this month, his first overseas travel as prime minister. Reiterating his remarks on diplomacy, he said he hopes to facilitate the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” with China’s increasing expansion in mind.

“I think it’s necessary to develop policies and protect national interests based on Japan-U.S. relations,” he said. Referring to the promotion of the strategy, he said, “I’d like to build stable relationships with neighboring countries including China and Russia.”

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