Photo/IllutrationThe March 9 evening edition and the March 10 morning edition of The Asahi Shimbun reporting the signing of the TPP11. The top news story of the March 10 issue was the resignation of Nobuhisa Sagawa from the post of director-general of the Finance Ministry's Financial Bureau. (Yuta Takahashi)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Finance Minister Taro Aso has apologized for griping that Japanese newspapers have not covered negotiations of an 11-member Pacific trade pact, but have given extensive coverage to a land sale scandal linked to the Abe administration.

The criticisms, most erroneous, were made at a meeting of Upper House’s Committee on Financial Affairs on March 29, when Aso was discussing the Trans-Pacific Partnership between 11 Pacific nations (TPP11), which was signed without the participation of the United States.

In making those remarks, Aso also revealed how little he knew about the free-trade agreement.

“Conclusion of the (TPP11) is definitely owed to Japan’s leadership,” Aso said at the March 29 meeting. “Toshimitsu Motegi, minister of state for Economic and Fiscal Policy, spent four days traveling to and from Peru (for the ceremony), but not even one line was printed in Japanese newspapers.”

Then, he expressed his disapproval of recent media coverage of a scandal involving the dodgy sale of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen for an elementary school and the subsequent falsification of official documents related to the negotiations.

“Japanese newspapers are only operating up to such a (low) standard,” and “so much so that they consider the Moritomo issue more important than the TPP11,” Aso said.

In fact, the TPP11 was only signed on March 8 and still has to be ratified by each participating country. Moreover, the signing ceremony was held in Santiago in Chile, not in Peru.

The ceremony, held in the early morning of March 9 Japan time, was reported by major newspapers including The Asahi Shimbun, The Mainichi Shimbun and The Yomiuri Shimbun, in their evening editions of March 9 and morning editions of March 10.

Kazuo Shii, the head of the Japanese Communist Party, criticized Aso at a news conference on March 29. He said that Aso sounded as if were asking, “how long do we have to keep focusing on such a low-priority issue as the Moritomo scandal?”

“He does not understand the magnitude of this issue,” Shii said. “I see no signs of regret in hearing such unabashed words from the chief of a ministry that is in the center of the falsification scandal.”

On March 30, in response to criticism from members at another Committee on Financial Affairs meeting, Aso explained his intention and apologized.

“Regarding the Moritomo issue, rewriting official documents is absolutely a serious matter, and it is most regrettable,” Aso said. “I never intended to make light of it. I would like to retract my words if they gave such an impression.

“I would like to apologize for the point that it was inappropriate to compare (the achievements of the TPP11) with the Moritomo issue.”

(This article was written by Maiko Ito, Toru Higashioka and Daisuke Fukuma.)