Japanese prime minister says he disapproves of signature drive by A-bomb survivors to promote nuclear weapons ban treaty

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

On January 31, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated at the Budget Committee of the Upper House that he does not endorse the “Hibakusha Appeal,” the international signature drive promoted by the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo). Mr. Abe said that the signature drive is calling on all nations to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and that “The nuclear weapons ban treaty rejects nuclear deterrence. Given the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, I have a responsibility to protect the lives of the people of Japan by maintaining this deterrence.”

Mr. Abe made this remark in response to a question from Shinji Morimoto, a member of the Upper House from the Democratic Party and an elected representative from Hiroshima. Regarding the treaty, Mr. Abe again expressed his view, saying, “We share the same goal of nuclear abolition, but our approach to this is different from the treaty.” He then stressed the importance of nuclear deterrence and indicated that he disapproves of the signature drive, given North Korea’s continuing moves to develop its nuclear weapons and missiles.

To urge the world’s nations to sign the nuclear weapons ban treaty, the global signature drive was launched by nine A-bomb survivors living in Japan and overseas, including Sunao Tsuboi, 92, the chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima-ken Hidankyo), in April 2016. As of last September, the signatures of about 5.15 million people have been collected. In Japan, the mayors of 976 local municipalities (including mayors that have since left office), accounting for more than half of the total number of the nation’s municipalities, have endorsed the signature drive.

On the same day at the Budget Committee of the Upper House, Taro Kono, the Japanese foreign minister, also responded to this issue by saying, “The nuclear deterrence provided by the United States must be maintained to address the security threats of the real world. The members of the Japanese government cannot endorse the petition drive with their signatures.” When Mr. Kono was challenged with the view that the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is excessive, he said, “This must be determined by the U.S. government in the midst of changing international conditions,” and avoided providing a clear assessment.

A-bomb survivors express their disappointment and anger

by Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writer

On January 31, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe voiced his disapproval of the Hibakusha Appeal, which was launched by Nihon Hidankyo, the A-bomb survivors in Hiroshima who are continuing to gather signatures to advance the abolition of nuclear weapons, expressed their disappointment and anger.

“I want to ask Mr. Abe which country he is serving as prime minister,” said Toshiyuki Mimaki, 75, one of the leading figures in the signature drive and the vice chair of Hiroshima-ken Hidankyo (chaired by Sunao Tsuboi), said with chagrin at the group’s office in Naka Ward, Hiroshima.

The promoters of the signature drive include Sunao Tsuboi, 92, the group’s chair, and Setsuko Thurlow, 86, an A-bomb survivor originally from Minami Ward, Hiroshima who now lives in Toronto, Canada, and other survivors. Ms. Thurlow delivered a speech at the award ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize last December. Mr. Mimaki continued, “Mr. Abe expressed his disapproval despite the fact that we are trying to take advantage of the momentum provided by the Nobel Peace Prize to spread the desire for nuclear abolition around the world through our international signature drive.” He feels mounting frustration toward the Japanese government, which not only refuses to sign the nuclear weapons ban treaty but is also turning its back on these efforts by the A-bomb survivors to support it.

Kunihiko Sakuma, 73, the chair of the other Hiroshma-ken Hidankyo, was also incensed, saying, “Though the prime minister commends the efforts of the A-bomb survivors, he refuses to sign the treaty. This is contradictory behavior and I can’t comprehend it.” Seven groups of A-bomb survivors, including the two groups of Hiroshima-ken Hidankyo, are now making preparations to establish a promotional association in March to strengthen their work gathering signatures. Mr. Sakuma stressed that he would like to broaden the circle of citizens who support the signature drive so that Japan will sign and ratify the treaty as soon as possible.

(Originally published on February 1, 2018)