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Editorial: Japan gov't failing the public by not defining 'anti-social forces'

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has approved its official view that defining "anti-social forces" -- a vague term that generally refers to organized crime groups -- in a strict and unified way is difficult because various forms of such bodies exist and could change depending on the trends of the times.

The move comes as suspicions have arisen that an individual linked to an anti-social organization was present at an annual cherry blossom-viewing party this year hosted by the prime minister.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that "the definition of anti-social forces has not been clearly made." The view approved at a Cabinet meeting put Suga's statement into an official document in response to a written question by an opposition party legislator.

However, the government actually did make a definition of anti-social forces in 2007 -- during Abe's first stint as prime minister -- when it adopted guidelines for measures to protect companies from such organizations.

The guidelines define anti-social forces as "groups or individuals that pursue economic profits through the use of violence, threats and fraud." As specific examples, the guidelines cite crime syndicates, companies affiliated with such organizations, corporate racketeers and groups specializing in intellectual crimes, among others.

Law enforcement authorities have stepped up their crackdowns on crime syndicates under the anti-organized crime law that came into force in 1992. To evade crackdowns, yakuza organizations have since tried to raise money by posing as legitimate companies or under the guise of social movements. Groups working with organized crime syndicates have also been called into question.

The government incorporated the term "anti-social forces," which covers a wider scope of crime groups and individuals involved in illegal activities, in the guidelines in an effort to sew up the loopholes in crackdowns on such groups. In accordance with the guidelines, companies now include clauses declaring that they forbid all anti-social organizations from contracts with their clients and are more prepared to reject any unjust demands from such organizations. In addition, police have also provided information on anti-social groups to businesses.

Members of the public are increasingly aware of the need to cut off ties with anti-social organizations as show business celebrities and business executives' relations with such groups have been highly criticized.

However, if the definition of anti-social forces is ambiguous, it could be used as an excuse for maintaining ties with such organizations or individuals. The Cabinet's recent approval of the government's official view that it is difficult to make a clear definition of anti-social forces will have a huge impact on society.

It would be unacceptable if the government's handling of the case was aimed at fending off opposition parties' grilling of the government over allegations that an anti-social figure was present at the taxpayer-funded cherry blossom party.

When asked about the consistency between the government view and the guidelines, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga said, "The content of the guidelines remains unchanged." Suga then provided a lame explanation that if a stricter definition were to be made, it would be more difficult for law enforcers to crack down on anti-social organizations. Moreover, Suga advised the public to consult with police or other related government organizations if they have trouble dealing with anti-social forces, leaving the issue entirely up to these government bodies. Such a weak response will only create serious problems in the future.

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