As the winter Olympics begin this week in Beijing, the Japanese parliament has added its voice to the global chorus of concern about human rights in China. The Resolution Regarding the Serious Human Rights Situation in Xinjiang Uighur and Other Areas passed almost unanimously on February 1. As expected, the Chinese Foreign Ministry reaction was swift, claiming Japan “has no authority whatsoever to make wanton remarks” about other countries’ human rights conditions.
Five political parties worked on the draft. The two parties that make up the ruling coalition, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, were joined by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Restoration Party and the Japan Communist Party. To gain this multiparty buy in, the Asahi Shimbun reported that the resolution’s language was softened so that all five parties could support it. For example, instead of human rights “violations,” the resolution focused on the human rights “situation.” The tiny Reiwa Shinsengumi party refused to sign, apparently out of this deference to Chinese feelings.
Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi addresses the House of Representatives after the passage of the human rights resolution, via Reuters
The Diet resolution made no direct reference to the People’s Republic of China, and yet there was no mistaking whose behavior this resolution was referring to. It noted the rising international concern over the “infringement of freedom of religion and forced incarceration in places including Xinjiang Uighur, Tibet, Southern Mongolia, and Hong Kong.”
The intent was not only to call out China, however. The House of Representatives called on the Japanese government “which proclaims respecting human rights as a principle” to make a “constructive commitment” to human rights. The Resolution called for a “substantive and solid political document” to guide Japan’s human rights diplomacy.
This explicit elevation of human rights in Japan’s foreign policy agenda has been the project of some within the LDP, Gen Nakatani foremost among them, for some time. In November, when Prime Minister Kishida invited Nakatani, a former defense minister, to advise him on human rights, it became clear that Japan would be increasing its cooperation with others in the international community on addressing China’s human rights abuses.
The language of the resolution urged Japanese to consider the use of force by states internally as of equal import to the use of force abroad. “The House of Representatives of Japan regards changing the status quo through force, as seen with the serious human rights situation, as a threat to the international community, and strongly calls for accountability for this serious issue in a manner acceptable to the international community.” Moreover, these lawmakers also argued that Japan should prepared to act in support of “those people in need.”
On the eve of the Beijing Olympics, Japan’s alignment with other nations around the globe on China’s human rights abuses portends a difficult year for Sino-Japanese relations. 2022 is the 50th anniversary of the normalization of Japan’s relations with China, and in his early call with Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa in November of last year, Foreign Minister Wang Yi cautioned him to focus on the positive this year. In response to the resolution, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, called the resolution “a severe political provocation against the Chinese people.” This is not likely to be an anniversary marked with popular celebration.