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Editorial: Japan vice-minister Sugita unfit to serve after series of discriminatory remarks

Mio Sugita, parliamentary vice-minister for internal affairs and communications, has retracted some of her past discriminatory comments and apologized. But if she wants to sincerely reflect on her past actions, she must also take responsibility.

    Sugita has withdrawn the remarks she made on two past occasions. The first was when she called sexual minority individuals "unproductive" because "they don't produce children" in an article she contributed to a monthly magazine in 2018. The other time was when she attended a meeting of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2016 and wrote in her blog about female participants, "I saw middle-aged cosplayers in (traditional Korean attire) Chima jeogori and traditional Ainu dresses. They're disgraceful."

    These comments trample on the dignity of sexual minorities and insult the traditional cultures of ethnic Koreans and our indigenous people.

    Internal affairs minister Takeaki Matsumoto instructed Sugita to apologize to those she had hurt and retract her remarks. In response, Sugita told a Diet meeting last week, "As a member of the Cabinet, I'll follow the instruction and take back my words."

    Right up until this point, however, Sugita had continued to make excuses, and hadn't expressed any intention to retract her comments. It seems that she changed her mind all of a sudden only because she was told by Matsumoto, rather than acting of her own accord.

    Sugita was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2012 on the ticket of the conservative opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party). In the last two lower house races, Sugita ran solely in the proportional representation bloc on a ruling Liberal Democratic Party ticket and received favorable treatment from the party thanks to support from former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other conservative members.

    During her inaugural news conference as parliamentary vice-minister for internal affairs and communications, Sugita insisted that she "never denied diversity or discriminated against sexual minorities." But the list of her gaffes goes on and on.

    In 2014, she said in a Diet meeting, "There's no discrimination against women in Japan." When this remark was brought to her attention by an opposition lawmaker in November this year, she told the Diet, "I meant that there is no terrible discrimination against women that could threaten their lives." This is just sophism.

    Sugita keeps insisting that her remarks were just "ill-chosen words of expression" but she has never admitted that they were discriminatory.

    Why did Prime Minister Fumio Kishida appoint Sugita, a person who had kept uttering remarks that raised questions whether she was fit to serve as a Diet member, in the first place? Kishida has explained that he "judged she was capable of serving as a parliamentary vice-minister." But the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is in charge of dealing with online bullying and defamation. We don't think Sugita is fit to serve in a junior ministerial position of that ministry.

    Kishida cannot leave this to Sugita and say she'll fulfil her accountability. The prime minister himself needs to show a strict stance against discriminatory behavior.

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