Japan’s COVID-19 national security problem

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers a question by an opposition lawmaker at Upper House's budget committee session at the National Diet in Tokyo on Monday, 2 March , 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Tsunoda).

Author: Toshiya Takahashi, Shoin University

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is testing Japan’s approach to crisis management and national security. In early March 2020, the Shinzo Abe government — after being criticised by the public for its slow and piecemeal measures to combat the spread of the infection — announced the revision of a 2012 special measure law originally designed to protect Japan from new types of influenza. The revisions enable the government to declare a state of national emergency to deal with the virus if necessary.

The government also imposed a de facto immigration ban on Chinese and South Korean nationals until at least the end of March and added a ban on foreign nationals who have stayed in some European countries, two provinces of China, and a part of South Korea and Iran. The use of the 2012 law for COVID-19 was criticised by some in Japanese media and opposition politics, but much of the public, some of whom in a state of panic, wants the government to take stronger measures.

While COVID-19 has become a pandemic spreading from East Asia, Japan has experienced increasing infection in domestic society since the end of January. Yet the Abe government has not been proactive in its response to the unfolding crisis. The government initially thought the epidemic was confined to select Chinese provinces and the Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored in Yokohama. It focussed on controlling the infection from those clusters but its policy was myopic elsewhere. Initially, immigration restrictions were declared only against travellers from two Chinese provinces and the cruise ship was quarantined for two weeks.

But COVID-19 had already entered Japan and government policy failed to contain the outbreak. Reports on the gradual spread of infections increased public anxiety and fear. Citizens who foresaw …continue reading