Japan MPs push for Hong Kong sanctions bill in wake of national security law
04 Aug 2020

Japanese politicians from across the political spectrum have set up a group to discuss a bill that would impose sanctions on foreign individuals and organisations that have committed human rights abuses, with particular attention being paid to Hong Kong.

The group held its first meeting on Wednesday, with 30 politicians from both the upper and lower houses of Japan’s Diet attending – many of whom said there was a need to be able to sanction China in the aftermath of the introduction of Hong Kong’s new national security law.

“I am a lawyer and I have been watching what has been going on in Hong Kong very carefully and I can say that what I see there is very worrying,” said Shiroi Yamao, who jointly leads the new group and is a member of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, a centre-right party that is currently the second-largest in the Diet.

“I’m very optimistic that the bill that we hope to propose can eventually become law,” she told This Week In Asia. “And that is important because this is taking place right next to Japan.”

The bill proposes giving Diet members the right to demand the executive branch open an investigation into cases in which human rights abuses are suspected. Should the investigation confirm that abuses have taken place, then the Japanese government will have the authority under the bill to sanction individuals or organisations involved by freezing their assets held in Japan, refusing entry into the country or ordering that they be deported.

Tokyo has so far limited its official criticism of the new national security law, which went into force on July 1, to an expression of “regret”. However, a vocal group within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has called for the formal withdrawal of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s invitation for a state visit, which was set to take place in April but had to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yamao, who sent a message of support to a July 12 march that was held in Tokyo protesting China’s treatment of Uygur Muslims and Hong Kong, said in an interview with Japan Business Press that she had been moved to form the group discussing the sanctions bill after seeing the “truly shocking” footage of police breaking up last year’s protests in a city “where there had been freedom, democracy and the rule of law, just like in Japan”.

She said she was pleased at the cross-party support the group had received from both sides of the political spectrum – ranging from representatives of the Japan Communist Party, which holds 25 seats across both chambers of the 710-seat Diet, to members of the ruling LDP’s conservative wing.

No members of Komeito, the LDP’s smaller coalition partner and traditionally a pro-China party, have yet joined Yamao’s group. To become law in Japan, a bill needs the support of the majority of both houses.

By Julian Ryall, South China Morning Post, 2 August 2020

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