Fumio Kishida agrees to make peace with Science Council

Fumio Kishida agrees to make peace with Science Council

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters after holding talks with Takaaki Kajita, president of the Science Council of Japan, at the prime minister's office in central Tokyo on January 13. Koichi Ueda Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed to make peace with the Science Council of Japan, which is still fuming over the previous administration's decision to ban entry of six scholars to the august body, which had fallen afoul of the government by taking issue with official policy.

The January 13 meeting at the prime minister's office marked the first time that Kishida had to hold face-to- face talks with the council's president, Takaaki Kajita.

Yoshihide Suga's predecessor, Kishida, refused the appointments of the six scholars to the council in 2020 and never offered an official explanation for his decision. The council is a special organization under the jurisdiction of the prime minister that makes policy proposals independent of government.

Suga's decision represented unprecedented meddling by the government in the composition of the council, which is fiercely antiwar as a matter of policy.

This caused widespread speculation that the decision was in retaliation for the scholars who refused to follow the government line on contentious national security legislation that was arbitrarily decided by the administration headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Suga's immediate predecessor.

During the meeting, Kajita reiterated his request for Kishida to overturn Suga's decision, but Kishida refused to budge, saying that the matter was decided by the former prime minister and would have to stand.

Kishida tried to keep things upbeat and stated that he wanted to initiate future-oriented dialogue with the council. He said he had asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno to act on his behalf.

The Science Council of Japan decided at its General Meeting in Tokyo in December that its priority was to request an audience with Kishida so that Kajita could raise the matter of six scholars who were refused membership.

After the 15 minute meeting, Kajita told reporters that the non-appointment of the six scholars was a decision made by the former prime minister. I want to stay positive and at least the chief cabinet secretary will be responsible for dialogue with us in the future. Kishida told reporters afterward he wanted to build a constructive relationship between the Science Council of Japan and the government to work together to find solutions to various issues facing society.

He stated that today s meeting was a first step toward doing so.

He didn't entertain the idea of appointing the six scholars to the council because the decision was made by the former prime minister and all relevant processes were concluded. Kishida's stance was no great surprise, as he had repeatedly made his views known on the issue.

Kishida said he was keen to have constructive dialogue with the council, but it remains unclear what he has in mind.

The Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who was appointed the intermediary in future exchanges, seemed to be no wiser.

He said at a news conference on January 13 that he would like to consider what we will talk about, without mentioning anything about the timing of future discussions.

The council's appointments are scheduled to be made next year, which puts the onus on the government to consider how nominees should be recommended as well as the fundamental form the council should take as an organization, according to an official source.

In October 2020, it was revealed that Suga selected six from 105 candidates recommended by the council for membership. The people in question were scholars of humanities and social science who had made critical remarks about policy measures adopted by the Abe administration. These included national security legislation that would ramp up the nation's involvement in U.S.-led wars, an anti-conspiracy law that expands authorities surveillance powers, and moves by Abe to revise the pacifist constitution.

Since the ban was first brought to light, the government and the ruling parties have called for a change in the way the council operates as an organization, a ploy viewed by many as an attempt to dodge the bullet over the appointments issue. They argued that the council's structure and way of doing things were not compatible with the funding provided by the government.

In November 2020, Shinji Inoue, who served as the state minister for science and technology policy, told Kajita that the council should consider severing ties with the government.

The following month, a project team within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party suggested that the council should become independent of the government. The council has refused to let the matter of six appointments drop.

The fact that nominees recommended by us were not appointed to the council, nor has a reason been given for it after all that time, makes it hard to build trust and have a dialogue between scientists and politicians, Kajita said last September.