Parties bicker as Diet to dismiss committee chair over China visit

Political bickering intensified Wednesday between the ruling and opposition camps in Japan, as the House of Councillors is expected to dismiss the chairwoman of one of its committees on Thursday after she extended her trip to China last month without Diet approval.

The conflict, which could sting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of an upper house election this summer, came amid growing tension over a territorial dispute between Japan and China.

Yoriko Kawaguchi, a former foreign minister who currently chairs the Environment Committee of the upper chamber, extended her stay in China by one day to meet with a senior Chinese official. But after her decision caused the committee to cancel a session, opposition parties criticized her for disrespecting parliamentary rules.

A total of seven opposition parties jointly submitted a resolution Tuesday to dismiss her as chairwoman of the committee. The opposition-controlled upper house is expected to pass the resolution.

The steering committee of the house decided to hold a vote on the resolution on Thursday. No Diet committee chief has ever been dismissed by a resolution.

Protesting the resolution, Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito party, refused to attend a session of the upper house Budget Committee on Wednesday. It is quite rare for the ruling bloc to boycott such a key session.

They were trying to show their unity against the opposition camp's call for Kawaguchi to step down.

But a ruling camp lawmaker said New Komeito Secretary General Yoshihisa Inoue told his LDP counterpart Shigeru Ishiba earlier in the day that they should consider Kawaguchi's voluntary resignation as an option to ease tensions in the Diet.

Kawaguchi, a senior LDP member, told reporters that she "leaves up to the party leadership" the matter of whether she should quit her job as committee chief.

A senior LDP lawmaker said Kawaguchi "never disregarded (the importance of) the Diet. Dismissing her is a disorderly behavior."

Kawaguchi visited China on April 23 and 24 to attend an international conference with Diet approval. But she extended her trip by one day to meet with State Councilor Yang Jiechi without permission from parliament and her absence forced the committee to cancel a session on April 25.

The LDP then attempted to obtain consent from opposition parties to extend her stay and hold a committee session as scheduled with an acting chair. But it failed to win their consent.

The meeting between Kawaguchi and Yang, China's top foreign policy official, came as a rare contact between senior officials of the two countries amid the dispute over a group of islands in the East China Sea, controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.

The government and LDP have defended Kawaguchi's decision, underscoring that she acted in the national interest.