--The Asahi Shimbun, March 8
EDITORIAL: Did 250,000 yen really threaten Japan's national interest?
Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara's resignation over donations he received from a foreign national has left us with a vaguely uncomfortable feeling.
The Korean resident who made the donations, the owner of a beef barbecue restaurant, says she has been treating Maehara as if he were her son ever since he moved to her neighborhood after losing his father when he was in the second year of junior high school.
Did her political donations to Maehara--50,000 yen ($610) per year for five years totaling 250,000 yen--really "threaten Japan's national interest?"
The Political Fund Control Law bans in principle Japanese lawmakers from accepting political contributions from foreigners or companies more than half owned by foreigners. The ban is designed to prevent foreign involvement in or influence on Japanese politics.
A Korean resident in Japan who runs pachinko parlors once talked about his political donations.
Because opening pachinko parlors requires permission from the authorities, he has no choice but to build personal relations with various politicians, from Diet lawmakers to members of municipal assemblies.
The Korean resident provides financial support to politicians only within the range in which they don't have to disclose the name of the donor. That way, it remains unknown that the money comes from a foreigner. When he buys tickets to a fund-raising party, for instance, the upper limit is 200,000 yen.
The man said this involves subtle cooperation with aides to the politicians based on "aun no kokyu," or the same wavelength.
The Political Fund Control Law was revised in 2006 to ease the ban on political donations by foreign companies, exempting from the rule companies that have been listed on a Japanese stock exchange for five years or more.
The revision has ensured that Japanese companies can continue making political donations even after foreigners have acquired more than half of their shares.
The Liberal Democratic Party proposed to lift the ban altogether, but the Democratic Party of Japan expressed concerns that the step would make it possible for a foreign party to influence Japanese politicians for specific purposes. As a result, the requirement concerning stock listing was added to the revision.
Here's another relevant story.
When an election draws near, candidates of various parties visit the local offices of Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan) to ask the organization affiliated with South Korea for support or recommendations.
Foreign residents in Japan, of course, don't have the right to vote in elections.
But the children of Korean residents married to a Japanese are Japanese nationals. And Korean business owners employ Japanese workers.
In areas where many Korean residents live, they could have a political influence that cannot be safely ignored.
These episodes indicate that the border that keeps foreigners from Japanese politics and elections is actually rather fuzzy and subject to the influence of politicians.
In particular, Korean residents affiliated with North or South Korea have been living in this country for three or four generations.
They have maintained their foreign nationality because of reasons related to the procedures for obtaining Japanese nationality or their sentiment toward their ethnic roots.
On the other hand, these Korean residents have been paying taxes as Japanese taxpayers do and sharing living space with Japanese citizens. They are integral members of local communities, including in terms of politics.
Korean residents seeking to be recognized as legitimate members of their local communities have been demanding the right to vote in local elections.
Receiving political donations from foreign residents in Japan is certainly illegal.
But a conversation at the Diet or on the street over the money Maehara received from the Korean owner of a barbecue restaurant loses sight of the context. It starts sounding like a discussion about an intelligence war between countries as soon as it becomes a debate on the abstract issue of political donations by foreigners.
Some important elements that can provoke candid conversations may have been lost in the process.
Have Maehara's critics made a well-reasoned argument by raising the issue of national interest and asking him which side he would choose if a diplomatic row were to break out between the two countries?