Japan's upper house passed a resolution Thursday dismissing Yoriko Kawaguchi, a senior lawmaker of the Liberal Democratic Party, as head of one of its standing committees over her recent trip to China, fueling tensions between the ruling and opposition camps ahead of this summer's national election.
The resolution, backed by seven opposition parties, criticized Kawaguchi, a former foreign minister who chaired the Environment Committee of the House of Councillors, for extending her stay in China to meet with a top Chinese official in late April without parliamentary approval.
The extension of her stay forced the panel to cancel a scheduled session. But the ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's LDP, defended Kawaguchi's decision, saying it was necessary at a time of tension between Tokyo and Beijing.
It is the first time in the history of Japan's parliament that a committee chair has been dismissed with a resolution.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed his disappointment over the unprecedented action taken by the opposition parties.
"She neither neglected her official duties nor made light of the legislature," the top government spokesman said at a news conference.
Kawaguchi also said her dismissal from the chair position was "extremely unfair."
"I chose to extend my stay after seriously considering both national interests that must be protected in terms of Japan-China relations and my responsibility as chair of the committee," she told reporters after the resolution was passed.
She denounced the opposition parties, saying this was "a symbolic incident" showing they no longer have the ability to judge what national interests mean.
Political tensions are escalating in Japan in the run-up to the next election possibly in July of the upper house, which is controlled by opposition parties.
Kawaguchi visited China on April 23 and 24 to attend an international conference with Diet approval. But she extended her trip by one day, without permission from parliament, for an urgently arranged meeting with State Councilor Yang Jiechi, and her absence forced the panel to cancel a session on April 25.
At that time, the LDP attempted to obtain consent from opposition parties to hold the committee session as scheduled with an acting chair. But the ruling party could not win consent from the DPJ and other opposition parties, which said Kawaguchi did not respect Diet rules and neglected her official duties.
The meeting between Kawaguchi and Yang, China's top foreign policy official, was a rare contact between high-ranking officials of the two countries amid a prolonged dispute over a group of islands in the East China Sea, controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.
Kawaguchi, a former trade ministry official, was appointed as foreign minister and as environment minister from the private sector under past LDP administrations before being elected to the upper house in 2005. She took up the committee chair post last October.