Political feud intensifies over Kawaguchi's China visit

The ruling and opposition camps in Japan intensified their conflict Wednesday over the extension of stay in China by former Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, with the governing coalition boycotting a Diet session in a rare move that heightened tensions.

The feud, which could be a sting for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of a House of Councillors election this summer, came amid a territorial dispute between Japan and China.

Kawaguchi, who currently chairs the upper house's Environment Committee, extended her stay in China in April by one day to meet with a senior Chinese official without Diet approval.

After her longer stay in China caused the committee to cancel a session late last month, the opposition camp criticized her for disrespecting parliamentary rules and submitted a resolution Tuesday to dismiss her as chairwoman of the committee.

The opposition-controlled upper house is expected to pass the resolution in a vote on Thursday.

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.

The ruling coalition parties were trying to show their unity against the opposition camp's call for Kawaguchi to step down.

However, 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 Kyodo News that she will respect any decision by the party on whether she should leave her post.

The Diet affair chiefs of the LDP and main opposition Democratic Party of Japan agreed the upper house will vote on the resolution in a plenary session on Thursday.

No Diet committee chairs have ever been dismissed by a resolution.

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.