Japan’s pandemic-era isolation sparks concerns of rising xenophobia amid anti-foreigner backlash | South China Morning Post
Japan’s pandemic-era isolation sparks concerns of rising xenophobia amid anti-foreigner backlash
A campaign against non-citizens voting, amid claims ‘80,000 Chinese people’ could move to Tokyo, followed an unusual US embassy warning on racial profiling. The incidents are feeding worries that Japan is souring on immigration as it approaches a third year of pandemic-driven border closures and economic upheaval
From a ban on new foreign arrivals to a campaign against efforts to let non-citizens vote, a series of developments in Japan is raising new concerns about xenophobia in Asia’s second-largest economy.Lawmakers in the Tokyo suburb of Musashino overruled the local mayor on Wednesday and rejected a bill that would have allowed residents of other nationalities to vote on some issues. The decision came after several prominent Liberal Democratic Party legislators launched a campaign against the plan, with former Vice Foreign Minister Masahisa Sato warning on Twitter that “80,000 Chinese people” could move to the city and influence its politics.
Last month, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government initiated new border controls that ban new entries by foreigners amid concerns about the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Separately, the US embassy in Tokyo issued an unusual warning on December 6 about suspected racial profiling of foreigners by local police – an allegation the government has denied.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government initiated new border controls last month that ban new entries by foreigners.
The incidents are feeding worries that Japan is souring on immigration as it approaches a third year of pandemic-driven border closures and economic upheaval. The government’s ban on arrivals by foreigners who lack existing residency status was backed by almost 90 per cent of respondents in one media poll.“It’s not only in Japan that the pandemic fanned xenophobic sentiments, but this is a country with a long-standing tradition of insular nationalist conservatism,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University. “Already before Covid, nationalism was exploited by some politicians to divert public attention away from real domestic ills that they did not want to deal with. But since last year, there has been an excessive, unscientific, and inhumane focus on ‘offshore measures’, such as the entry ban, by the Japanese government.”
Japan: now open to foreign workers, but still just as racist?While the island nation of 125 million has long been known for its hurdles to immigration, the government had warmed to overseas labour in recent years, because of the need to offset a shrinking workforce. The number of foreign workers in Japan more than doubled to 1.7 million in the seven years to 2020, many of them in the construction and service industries. A poll by national broadcaster NHK carried out in March 2020, before the pandemic took hold in Japan, found that most respondents favoured more immigration. The Tourism Agency still maintains a target of attracting 60 million foreign visitors in 2030.The ban on foreign entries also runs counter to the LDP’s stated goal of bolstering Tokyo’s status as an international financial centre by luring away global companies concerned about Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong. The number of foreign citizens living in Japan fell 2 per cent to 2.8 million in June, compared with six months earlier, according to the Justice Ministry.The response to Musashino Mayor Reiko Matsushita’s proposal to let some 3,000 non-citizens vote in local referendums illustrates the political forces against increased immigration. Matsushita told broadcaster TBS before the vote that she wanted “to make diversity into a strength and realise a multicultural society” in the city of 150,000.
“We’ll create a system whereby people have an opportunity to express opinions on important issues regardless of their nationality,” she said.
It is the people of the country, not foreigners, who have the right to make decisions 70 LDP lawmakers’ statement on proposed voting changes in MusashinoNon-Japanese are not permitted to vote in any local or national elections, by contrast with several countries in Europe, including Britain and Ireland. New York city this month also approved a measure allowing non-citizens to participate in local elections.Japan narrows the path to enfranchisement for immigrants by banning dual citizenship. Still, two other Japanese districts have ordinances similar to the one Matsushita proposed, while more than 40 allow foreigners to vote in referendums under certain circumstances.Besides Sato, who denounced the proposal as “no good”, a group of about 70 LDP lawmakers urged parliamentary action to prevent such efforts from advancing in the future. “It is the people of the country, not foreigners, who have the right to make decisions,” the group said in a statement.Kishida’s top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, declined to comment on the controversy. Meanwhile, with Omicron infections soaring globally and Japan’s daily Covid-19 deaths in the single digits, Kishida has little incentive to ease the border measures. He frequently mentions that the country’s clampdown on entry is the most severe among the Group of Seven nations and told reporters on Tuesday that existing border controls would stay in place for the time being.