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Editorial: Ex-state minister's gaffe lacks common sense shared by int'l community

Former state minister Kozo Yamamoto recently called Africa "that black thing" when he was speaking of relationship-building activities a fellow Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker is undertaking with African countries. His remark was utterly offensive and lacks common sense shared by the international community. It is not something that can be forgiven and forgotten -- even though he retracted his words.

Yamamoto made the comment during a seminar held by House of Representatives member Asahiko Mihara in the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Kitakyushu. Mihara serves as acting chairman of a legislators' group promoting friendly relations between Japan and the African Union, and has visited African countries.

After his remark made headlines, Yamamoto offered unconvincing explanations such as "Africa used to be called the 'Dark Continent,'" and that he had "no intention of discriminating against anyone," but that's no excuse.

Other Japanese lawmakers have made discriminatory comments about black people in the past. In the 1980s, the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus objected to remarks made by Japanese legislators including then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and LDP policy research chairman Michio Watanabe, triggering a protest movement.

Globalization has progressed in the past 30 years, and human rights awareness is increasingly shared within the international community. We cannot help question Yamamoto's qualifications as a lawmaker when he's making statements that make him look as if he is isolated from such global norms and looks down on black people.

LDP General Council Chairman Wataru Takeshita just last week faced a backlash after saying that he was opposed to having same-sex partners of state guests at banquets hosted by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. It was a comment that runs counter to the position adopted by many parts of the world to acknowledge the rights of sexual minorities.

Yamamoto's remark, furthermore, was something that could drag down Japan's growing efforts on Japan-Africa diplomacy.

To advance cooperation with African countries, Japan has held the Tokyo International Conference on African Development every five years since 1993, to which it invites leaders from African nations. At the conference held in August last year, which was the first time the event was held in Africa, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took part and appealed for Japan's solidarity with African countries. In 2014, Abe became the first Japanese prime minister in some eight years to visit the continent.

Yamamoto's remark, in essence, tramples on the efforts that Japan has made to promote Japan-Africa relations over the years.

Yamamoto, when serving as state minister in charge of regional revitalization, also caused a stir after calling curators "the No. 1 cancer" to the promotion of tourism because they lack "a spirit for serving tourists."

In light of this series of gaffes, the LDP leadership should deal with Yamamoto harshly. Making remarks that deviate from an awareness shared by many societies of the world causes great loss to Japan's national interests.

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