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The government’s decision to let Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping have an exceptional audience with the Emperor Tuesday made many people wonder whether the government, especially Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, has a correct understanding of the constitutional order with regard to the position of the Emperor. It is hard to dispel the impression that both China and the government have politically exploited the Emperor, who should be above politics.

The Chinese government’s desire for Mr. Xi to gain an audience was strong. In 1995, a rule of protocol was established that a request for an imperial audience be submitted at least a month in advance, to smoothen the Emperor’s schedule. Special consideration also must be given to the health of the Emperor, who underwent prostate cancer surgery in 2003. So far this rule has been applied strictly and equally, irrespective of the size of countries represented by visitors or their political weight.

The Foreign Ministry had at first rejected a request from China for Mr. Xi to have an audience with the Emperor because the request failed to meet the one-month deadline. But China insisted that the success of Mr. Xi’s visit to Japan would hinge on whether the request was granted.

It has been reported that although Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano asked the Imperial Household Agency on Dec. 7 to arrange the audience, the agency declined, but then accepted the request when it was repeated on Dec. 10. Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, who visited Beijing on Dec. 10 with a delegation of some 600 people to meet with President Hu Jintao, has denied trying to influence the government. Mr. Hatoyama said the government’s eventual decision was correct.

Imperial Household Agency chief Shingo Haketa expressed concern that involving the Emperor when the nation has an issue with a foreign country would undermine the Emperor’s position and role under the Constitution. He is correct. The government should disclose the details of the process that led to Mr. Xi’s audience, and its stance on the Constitution’s stipulations on the role of the Emperor.

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