Japan: Affairs of State

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Regardless of what else is said about Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton can be thankful that it's never been suggested that she is a Chinese spy. Ryutaro Hashimoto is not so lucky. For months Japan's prime Minister has been dogged by rumors that while he was a cabinet official in the 1980s, he consorted with a Chinese woman who was an agent for Beijing. Although he has refused to answer any questions about how close they were, Hashimoto last November admitted that the woman had interpreted for him and that he had written her and bought her a meal. Discreet marital infidelity among politicians rarely prompts much notice in Japan; involvement with a spy is another matter. One of the chief allegations is that the woman influenced a decision in 1989 by then health minister Hashimoto to push for a large aid package for a Chinese hospital, at a time after the Tiananmen massacre when few countries were willing to deal with China.

So far, evidence that the woman was a spy is a little shaky. But last week the opposition Democratic Party of Japan announced it would launch an investigation of the relationship and of the woman. Result: a lot of questions -- why was Hashimoto using a Chinese, not a Japanese, interpreter? how did the woman subsequently get Japanese citizenship so easily? -- are being raised, and loudly.