Shinpei Matsushita, a Japanese senator of the country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has drawn attention due to an investigative report claiming that he hired a Chinese national as his secretary — possibly in contravention of Japanese laws on political sponsorship.
According to the December 2021 report by Japanese weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun, which is known for its investigative journalism, Matsushita met and befriended the 42-year-old woman through a business contact. He appointed her as his “diplomatic advisor and foreign secretary,” as indicated on printed business cards.
Matsushita has held powerful positions in Japan’s government, such as chairman of the Foreign Ministry, Parliamentary Secretary for Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, and Vice Minister of the Cabinet Office. He has also been a member of the National Diet (Japan’s parliament) for 17 years.
The report noted that for such a political figure to appoint a Chinese national as his secretary is very problematic from the standpoint of national security, given that Matsushita has the potential to serve as a minister in the future.
According to people familiar with the Chinese woman, she is 42 years old and grew up in a rather wealthy family, Shukan Bunshun reported. The company she works for mainly deals in the sea cucumber trade, and is headquartered in Hokkaido. Its manager, a naturalized Japanese citizen from China, introduced the woman to Matsushida.
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The Chinese woman began to frequent the 55-year-old legislator’s office, according to Shukan Bunshun. Since then, Matsushita has held meetings with the woman almost every evening, whether with his supporters or with the executives of the company she works for.
Even when Japan declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic, the two of them attended house parties held by the manager of the Chinese company, or went out to play golf.
According to media disclosures, the Chinese woman’s secretary position allowed her to arrange many events, such as a political funding party held by the lawmaker late last year, which was attended by both then-Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Many of the 250 attendees at the party were Chinese, and their attendance was arranged by the woman.
The media reported that shortly after meeting her, Matsushita gave her business cards printed with the title of Foreign Secretary and a pass that allowed her to freely enter and leave the Japanese Diet.
Matsushita benefited from the relationship as well. The woman often introduced him to Chinese industrialists, and helped sell tickets to political events held by the senator.
A violation of Japanese law?
Matsushida’s office has insisted that the woman is merely an advisor to the senator, and does not receive compensation for her services. However, some in the LDP hold suspicions that she has overstepped her role, becoming indispensable to the legislator.
However, the woman’s being unpaid would present issues with Japan’s Political Funds Law, a political scientist told the Shukan Bunshun.
Tomoaki Iwai, professor emeritus at Nihon University, said that according to that law, “if a company pays a salary for an employee’s secretarial work, it is equivalent to a donation from the company to the politician. Since the woman is employed by the company and receives a salary while working at the legislator’s office in a so-called unpaid job, the company is paying the secretary’s salary on behalf of the legislator. Thus, the amount of her salary must be recorded in the legislator’s income and expenditure report.”
However, since the income and expenditure report of Matsushita did not contain such an entry, then according to Japanese law, if an item that must be recorded is deliberately omitted when filling out the income and expenditure report, the penalty is a prison term of up to five years or a fine of up to 1 million yen.
When the Shukan Bunshun raised this issue with the Matsushita parliamentary office, they received the following response from the office.
“She doesn’t stay at the parliamentary office all the time. It’s just that we ask her when we don’t understand something and she kindly gives us answers. That’s all. So there’s no question of compensation, let alone salary. She is just one of the volunteers. So there’s no question of foreign companies paying for her.”
What the media has learned is that the Chinese woman works at the legislator’s office two or three days out of a five-day work week, stays there for long hours on the phone, and accompanies the legislator to evening dinner parties. So what she did was actually secretarial work.
Beijing’s use of “united front” tactics to co-opt politicians in democratic countries is well-documented. In January of this year, Shukan Bunshun broke the story of the Chinese Communist Party’s infiltration of the British political establishment.
Last year, the British Military Intelligence Department warned the British government that the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party was infiltrating the British Parliament and that a Chinese lawyer, Christine Ching Kui Lee, was trying to influence British politics through donations, which led to calls from Parliament to have the woman removed from the country.