Japan Minister Criticised For Saying Higher 'cultural Standard' Helped Beat Coronavirus


TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japan's success against the coronavirus without enforcing a strict lockdown is due to the citizens' "cultural standard" that is different from other nations, Finance Minister Taro Aso said, drawing criticism from the public that the comments were inappropriate.

"Other countries have called me up and asked me if we're the only ones with some drug against the virus or something," Mr Aso said on Thursday (June 4) in response to a question from a lawmaker on Japan's reputation of successfully containing the pandemic. "When I tell them 'our country's cultural standard levels are different to yours,' they're left speechless. That's the simplest way to put an end to the questions."

Mr Aso's remarks, which elicited laughs at the committee meeting, were made in the context of Japan's inability to enforce a hard lockdown due to civil liberties enshrined in the post-war constitution.

Japanese officials were only able to ask for people to stay home and businesses to close, though the level of cooperation was high.

Despite the lack of harsh measures, Japan suffered far fewer coronavirus infections than any of its Group of Seven peers, with about 7 deaths per million, a track record that Mr Aso noted in his comments. Japan isn't an exception though in Asia, with Taiwan and South Korea reporting lower mortality rates.

Not everyone agreed with how Mr Aso framed his comments, with his words striking some on social media as inappropriate, particularly in light of the ongoing protests in the US against police brutality and racism.

"That's exactly the thing you shouldn't say at this time," Dr Kenichiro Mogi, a renowned neuroscientist and author, said on Twitter.

Dr Kentaro Iwata, a Japanese infectious disease expert who made international headlines criticising the bureaucrats' handling of the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February, seemed exasperated in his response saying, "Well, of course they would be speechless."

Opposition politician Renho Murata also blasted the remarks. "Who do you think you are, Minister Aso?" she asked. "I don't want you commenting to the world as Japan's finance minister."

The backlash caused Mr Aso to explain his remarks on Friday. The comments were meant to say Japan should be proud that it was able to fight the virus without any coercion, when some other nations struggled to do so even with stricter controls, Mr Aso said, adding that his comments weren't meant to be disparaging of other nations.

Mr Aso, a frank speaker who is also deputy prime minister, is known for his gaffes and has been able to survive multiple verbal blunders during his political career. In the past, he has remarked that Japan could learn from the Nazis about how to change the constitution, been criticised for his response to a sexual harassment case within his own ministry, and said people not having children are raising the burden on welfare.