On Japan’s Secrets Act, New York Times Misses the Elephant in the Room

The New York Times editorialized on Monday against Japan’s new state secrets law, and I wholeheartedly second their condemnation. But given the American fingerprints on the law, I find it odd that their only reference to the United States involved events “seven decades ago”. This was of a piece with the Times’ reporting on the law, which never saw fit to ask U.S. officials how they could urge on Japan such an antidemocratic measure. For an American audience, isn’t this the most relevant part of the story? If Russia pressed for changes in Ukrainian law, I doubt that the Times would relegate that to the margins of their coverage.

I sent a letter to the Times, but as the odds of them printing it are infinitesimal, here is a revised and expanded version.

The Times is right to raise alarms over Japan’s draconian state secrets act (Editorial, Dec. 16), but your failure to even mention the role of the United States in this is mystifying. The Abe administration repeatedly cited U.S. admonitions that without a tighter secrecy regimen, intelligence would not be readily shared with Japan – a crucial selling point in a country where many look for security to the U.S. And Abe was not making this up: the State Department immediately welcomed the law’s passage.

When Abe came to power a year ago, the Obama administration was delighted to find someone they could count on to carry forth U.S. priorities like restarting nuclear power plants, a new Marine base in Okinawa, and eventually, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Only someone undeterred by fervent domestic opposition would do, and on the secrets act, Abe has just proven himself.

The administration’s position here is consistent with its aggressive prosecutions of whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning, currently serving a sentence three and a half times the maximum under the Japanese law. LDP Secretary General Ishiba’s ranking of protesters with terrorists was indeed odious, but what of American Ishibas like Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Biden, both of whom called Julian Assange a “high-tech terrorist”? Instead of bemoaning the machinations of authoritarians in Tokyo, you might direct some of your fire at those in Washington who seem to find them useful.

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