- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

Yasuhiro Nakasone, 88, prime minister of Japan from 1982 to 1987, spoke with Washington Times reporter Takehiko Kambayashi about changing the Japanese Constitution, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s administration, and Japan’s diplomacy, especially its relations with the United States and China.

Question: U.S.-Japan relations are said to be amicable. However, some critics say Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi dances to Washington’s tune. How do you see it?

Answer: Most Japanese are satisfied with the good relationship that has been maintained during the Koizumi administration. The close, cooperative relationship between our two countries is fundamental to Japan’s present and future, and Mr. Koizumi has handled it appropriately. In contrast, some people are concerned that since Mr. Koizumi took office, Japan has grown apart from the rest of Asia.

Q: How about national politics?

A: Mr. Koizumi has been too absorbed in postal privatization and reform of the Japan Highways Public Corp. I believe that politics should focus on constitutional reform, education, social security, financial reform and diplomacy — particularly relations with other Asian countries. His tendency to get sidetracked by less important projects rather than more substantial concerns facing the country has earned him criticism, which, in my view, is well-founded.

Q: Not only Japan’s relations with China and South Korea, but with other Asian countries are said to have worsened. What do you make of that?

A: This is the case in some situations. We are in an era of nationalism. People in South Korea, China and Japan support their respective leaders in case of disagreements. Leaders in the three countries have a responsibility to curb excessive nationalism, but instead, they are riding the tide of populism and leading nationalist tendencies, something that should not be condoned.

Q: Mr. Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine are considered mainly to blame for aggravating relations with China. However, some say China’s silent military buildup also is at fault.

A: China has become a big power, certainly, but Japan does not yet consider it to be a threat. With regard to the Yasukuni Shrine issue, I have advocated for some time separate enshrinement of certain individuals.

[Editor’s note: Mr. Koizumi has visited Yasukuni Shrine — which honors Japan’s 2.5 million war dead since the 1853 opening of Japan by Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy — five times since becoming prime minister in April 2001.

[The opening of Japan led to the overthrow of the shoguns and restoration of the emperor as symbolic head of government. It also led to Japan’s involvement in wars, whose dead include some executed as World War II criminals and named at the war memorial.]

To improve relations with China and Korea, some sort of a mutually beneficial correction is necessary. The foreign ministries of each country should engage in constructive discussion toward finding solutions.

But now, the prime minister’s office and Beijing are at odds, and the foreign ministries of both China and Japan don’t seem to be involved. They should be actively holding discussions on how to get things back on track.

Q: Some say that not only North Korea’s nuclear development efforts and China’s relations with Taiwan, but China’s military buildup itself has become a destabilizing factor in East Asia.

A: If a country assumes the role of a big power, that country must possess actual strength to a certain extent. In addition to domestic programs, education and national unity, military strength is a factor. The issue is how far China will build up its military. Currently, the annual defense spending increase is publicly reported to be 15 percent, but in actuality, it is probably larger.

China is expected to conduct “peace diplomacy” through the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. The question is the pace of defense spending and how domestic problems are handled after 2010. We need to pay close attention to these issues.

Q: You said a big power needs “real strength.” Do you believe Japan also needs military strength?

A: That question involves constitutional revision. When constitutional revision is taken up, I believe the issue of Japan’s defense should be considered, but Japan maintains an exclusively defense-oriented policy.

Q: Some American analysts say the Japanese people need education to understand how important security policy is.

A: Americans also need to know the state of affairs in Asia. American lawmakers and people, as well as Japanese legislators and people, need to be better informed about Asia. But in terms of self-defense, some recent polls show that more than 60 percent of the Japanese population favor constitutional revision.

One aspect of that — changing the Self-Defense Forces to a “Defense Force” — is supported by most people in their 20s and 40s, and about half of those in their 50s and 60s.

That most young people support a revision attests to the fact that they are well-informed about world affairs.

Q: It has been suggested that Japan strengthen its forces to reach a military balance in East Asia.

A: A Defense Force is a necessity. Also fundamental is the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

Q: How should Japan respond to China’s military buildup?

A: A diplomatic approach that provides for stable Japan-China and U.S.-China relations will help foster China’s stability in the international framework. A larger scale than just Japan-China or U.S.-China will be necessary as a long-term solution.

Q: Regarding Japan’s relations with China, South Korea and the United States, what do you expect from the next administration after Mr. Koizumi?

A: It is important to avoid confrontation. U.S.-China relations are amicable, so Japanese diplomatic efforts should work on establishing good relations between Japan and China and among Japan, China and the United States.

Q: Although relations with the United States and China are said to be good, the United States has a new military strategy, anticipating China as a threat. And, it seems, vice-versa.

A: International relations is a concept that exists among conflicting views. It is diplomacy that maintains peace in such circumstances.

Q: Speaking of the Tokyo war crimes tribunal, you have said that you refuse to accept the tribunal, haven’t you?

A: According to Article 11 of the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty, “Japan accepts the judgments” of the tribunal. The word “judgments” is written in plural. That doesn’t mean the tribunal itself; it means the rulings. Since independence, Japan has complied with the rulings. However, this does not mean that Japan accepts the entire contents of the tribunal.

That is my interpretation, and that of most of the public as well.

Q: Mr. Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) swept to a landslide victory in the 2005 general elections for the House of Representatives. Afterward, former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa attributed the LDP victory to the media, especially television, when he appeared on a nationwide political talk show. What do you make of that?

A: One of the major reasons for the LDP’s favorable results is the single-seat constituency system. That, and the effect of television, influenced the election.

Q: How have the media changed since you were prime minister?

A: Today, both politicians and journalists lack substance.

Q: What do you mean?

A: They are apt to focus on shallow events that have little real significance.

Q: In an era when television has enormous influence over politics, do you think performance is important?

A: To some extent, it is a factor. However, we can compare a politician to a tree. A tree has flowers and branches, but its most essential part is its trunk. “Performance” may be represented by the leaves and flowers, but it is the trunk that produces them. So, as long as one is preoccupied by leaves and flowers, I would say that further growth as a politician is necessary.

Appearing on tabloid TV shows rarely leads to greatness.

Q: But there seem to be a lot of politicians these days who believe getting their faces on TV is very important.

A: When it comes to the prime minister, however, people focus on the trunk and the roots, not just the leaves and the flowers.

Q: Are you saying the public needs to develop discerning eyes for the trunk and the roots?

A: The public already has the ability to distinguish between the substance and the performance of politicians, at least to a certain degree. It is the media — its commercialism — that caricature politics. Politicians must be wary of this and not allow themselves to succumb to this commercialism.

Q: Critics say journalists lack an understanding of issues.

A: Media today give priority to commercial interests and viewer ratings. Politics is treated as just another form of entertainment.

There is not a real understanding of the issues facing us.

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