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Tadashi Narabayashi

【#724】Science Council of Japan Should Protect Academic Freedom

Tadashi Narabayashi / 2020.10.08 (Thu)

October 5, 2020


The Asahi Shimbun newspaper and other Japanese media have criticized the Suga administration’s refusal to appoint six of 105 candidates recommended by the Science Council of Japan for SCJ membership as running counter to academic freedom. However, there is a precedent in 2016, when the then Abe administration was reluctant to accept SCJ’s recommended candidates to fill vacancies caused by the age limit of 70, leaving three vacancies unfilled. In November 2018, the Cabinet Legislation Bureau concluded that the government is not obliged to appoint SCJ members as recommended by the SCJ.

Rejected candidates opposed security legislation

The names, affiliations, and activity histories of the six rejected candidates have been reported. They have opposed national security laws that permitted limited exercise of rights to collective self-defense and other security-related legislation.

University of Tokyo professor A (majoring in political thought history) opposed the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets enacted in 2013 and called for forming an “Association of Scholars Opposed to National Security Laws.” Waseda University professor B (administrative law) set up an “Association of Waseda University Volunteers Seeking to Repeal National Security Laws” and issued a statement of protest against the government’s handling of a U.S. military base construction off Camp Schwab in Okinawa. Jikei University professor C (constitutional law) called for scrapping national security legislation that he said would lead to Japan’s unlimited exercise of rights to collective self-defense. University of Tokyo professor D (modern Japanese history) proposed to establish a group named “Save Constitutional Democracy Japan 2014” and raised opposition to any constitutional amendment and the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets. Ritsumeikan University professor E (criminal law) criticized a bill in 2017 for revising the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds as the worst postwar public order legislation. Kyoto University professor F (Christianity) has supported the “Association of Scholars Opposed to National Security Laws” and an “Association of Kyoto University Volunteers for Freedom and Peace,” which opposed national security legislation.

SCJ cooperating with China while rejecting military research

Meanwhile, the SCJ has emphasized its rejection of studies related to the Ministry of Defense under the banner of military research ban. There is a case symbolizing the rejection. Hokkaido University applied in fiscal 2016 for the ministry’s security technology research promotion program and the ministry adopted a study proposed by the university’s professor M (fluid mechanics) for covering a ship’s bottom with fine bubbles to reduce navigation resistance. The epoch-making study would cut fuel consumption by 10% not only for Japanese Self-Defense Forces but also for private sector tankers and ships. In its statement on March 24, 2017, however, the SCJ criticized the study as a military research. The virtual pressure from the SCJ led the university to withdraw the study from the Ministry of Defense program in 2018.

The SCJ opposes national defense for protecting Japanese people’s lives and assets and behaves in a manner to support assertions and activities of some opposition parties. Though being an academic group of excellent scholars, the SCJ serves as a lobby group to deny academic freedom on its own. Kyosuke Nagata, chairman of the Japan Association of National Universities and president of Tsukuba University, told a press conference on March 26 this year that he thought any research for self-defense sponsored by any government agency would be right, indicating his critical view on the SCJ. I am among many researchers who agree with him.

The SCJ signed a memorandum for cooperation with the China Association for Science and Technology. At a time when suppression on ethnic minorities, Hong Kong crackdown, the militarization of the South China Sea and other Chinese iron-fist actions come under international fire, SCJ’s academic cooperation with China may need to be fundamentally reconsidered.

Correction: The original version of the article said “SCJ officials forced their way into the Hokkaido University president’s room.” This description proved wrong.

Tadashi Narabayashi is a professor emeritus at Hokkaido University and a director at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.