Comment: Japanese government hindering the peace efforts of its own youth

by Tomomitsu Miyazaki, Deputy Editorial Writer

In August of last year, a Peace Ambassador from Japan made a speech during a plenary session of the Conference on Disarmament at United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. To ambassadors from around the world, the high school student said that 71 years had passed since the atomic bombing and “if people did not stand up for the cause of nuclear abolition, the world would continue to be indifferent to the voices of the A-bomb survivors.”

Japan’s foreign ministry lent its support to the Peace Ambassadors and allowed them to sit in the seats for representatives of the Japanese government. This may have come, in part, from the excitement over Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima earlier in the year, the first sitting president of the United States to visit the A-bombed city.

But what happened this year? The Peace Ambassadors were not given the chance to speak, as their predecessors did from 2014 to 2016. The foreign ministry reportedly explained that this change was due to a complaint made by another nation.

Was it China, which said to the Peace Ambassadors last year that they should not forget about Japan’s aggression or who started the war? Or was it the United States, which has turned its back on nuclear disarmament under the administration of President Donald Trump? Whichever nation it may have been, it would be deplorable if the Japanese government had accepted the complaint without any objections.

The nuclear weapon states may be feeling cornered since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted at the United Nations in July. The recognition that nuclear arsenals should not be permitted will grow more widespread in the international community.

This year the Peace Ambassadors and their supporters have collected a record number of signatures in support of nuclear abolition. This may reflect the growing sense of hope that the path toward a world without nuclear weapons has become visible, albeit faintly. Or is this because of the sense of crisis caused by growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula?

Is the Japanese government really aware of the surge in global sentiment toward reducing the number of nuclear weapons to zero? If the government deems itself a bridge between the nuclear and non-nuclear nations, it should put its ideas into action.

The foreign ministry stresses that it strives for a form of education that promotes disarmament. But they should be educating politicians and bureaucrats first, before educating young people who take on such roles as Peace Ambassadors.

(Originally published on August 26, 2017)