China developed "chatbots" using artificial intelligence (AI) that can converse with humans online through repeated practice.

When an individual recently posted "Long live the Communist Party," this AI reportedly responded, "Do you think such a corrupt and useless political system can live long?"

No doubt some people thought this response was perfectly sound. The Internet was abuzz over this "AI uprising." But as China is a one-party regime, the company running this site suspended operations immediately.

In Japan, a perfectly sound argument popped out of the mouth of a Cabinet minister on Aug. 8. Tetsuma Esaki, the freshly minted minister of state for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, noted that the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) requires "some review" and that "this should be a pact that can be changed through negotiation where change is needed."

Reviewing and correcting some of SOFA's "unfair" provisions is a dream-come-true for local governments that host U.S. military bases, especially Okinawa Prefecture.

Did Esaki's remarks arise from his genuine sense of responsibility as the minister in charge to raise questions about this treaty?

That same afternoon, Esaki backpedaled: He never raised the subject during his meeting with the governor of Okinawa. And when reporters asked him to expound on what he had meant, he refused to answer.

Did someone muzzle him?

If Esaki can be likened to that Chinese AI, one thing they have in common is that neither spoke out of any deep personal conviction. The Chinese AI was certainly not a citizen committed to change. And Esaki apparently has no qualms about leaving all heavy lifting to experienced bureaucrats. He blurted out, "I will read out written answers prepared by bureaucrats."

A first-time Cabinet minister, Esaki said of his new appointment that he was "inadequate" and that it was "burdensome." He certainly appears to be an honest man.

But it's still not too late for him to thoroughly study and understand Okinawa's problems, and then commit himself to saying what rightfully needs to be said.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 10

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.