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TOSHIRO OZAWA: I think politics in Japan changed tremendously after the end of the Cold War.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, the new challenges facing Japan.
TOSHIYA HOSHINO: Japan is in serious economic trouble these days. And we are feeling that we have to do something about that, get out of this mess.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.
In both internal politics and external relations, the new century is bringing new challenges to Japan. Common Ground‘s Keith Porter recently traveled to Japan and spoke with a number of experts about the country’s past and future.
[sound of a running brook; birds chirping]
PORTER: This is the sound of a Shinto shrine in Yokohama.
[sound of a gong]
PORTER: The ancient practices in this particular shrine are surrounded by skyscrapers and ultramodern urban sprawl. In some ways, this is representative of the tensions between old and new which are shaping the Japanese government and the Japanese people.
[sound of rooster crowing]
PORTER: In the Japanese parliament, known as the National Diet, the Liberal Democratic party, the LDP, held a commanding majority of seats for decades. More recently though, they have had to form a coalition government with two other parties in order to stay in power. But the LDP and its new partners, the Liberal party and the Komeito party, have many differences which make them appear to be an unlikely alliance. I first spoke with Toshiro Ozawa. He’s the acting director of the Japanese Institute of International Affairs—about how this coalition government and other forces are shaping Japan.
TOSHIRO OZAWA: The three parties have their idiosyncrasies. And they do have different platforms. So there is some criticism about the formation of three different parties forming a coalition at this stage. The opposition parties claim that there should be elections to seek the thinking of the population as a whole. However, the three parties have somehow so far been able to overcome the differences in their platforms and have so far succeeded in passing the legislation that is needed.
PORTER: In the United States, say a frequent controversial topic of political debate is campaign finance reform. And I have read that in Japan this is also an issue, of talking about what constitutes proper donations to candidates and what doesn’t. And I’ve also read that this might be an issue that the three parties would have some disagreement on. Is this correct?
OZAWA: Yes Keith, you are correct. This is an issue that has been ongoing for about two decades, now. And there has been through these years, not just reform for the financing of the political parties but also on the election process for the legislative seats. On the financing side, there has been a decision made some time ago that there would be more financing from individuals and the government, and not from the corporations. There has been debate within the LDP going back and forth about this decision, which was already made before. And there is some criticism about that. But I think now the Prime Minister is fairly confident that he can deliver on the decision that was reached before. That is to say, there will be no more financing from the corporations to the parties.
PORTER: So corporations at the moment are allowed to make donations directly to candidates? Or directly to the party?
OZAWA: They can make contributions to both.
PORTER: You mentioned earlier the possibility of dissolving the lower house. The elections aren’t due necessarily until October of 2000, but I have read that there is talk, at least, that the elections may be called sooner than that. Why would that happen?
OZAWA: Well, the general anticipation, I think, is that the elections will be held after the Okinawa G-8 summit meeting, to be held in July. So I think the general expectations will be for elections to be held sometime either in August or September. But this is a very interesting phenomenon, Keith. When you have a very large force within the legislature—that is 350 out of five hundred seats—that seems to create a lot of stability; then all of a sudden there’s infighting and bickering within that large majority. And so there are now some speculation that this may not hold together and that the Prime Minister may have to call elections early next year. Say, for instance, in January. But on the whole, I would think that because the Okinawa summit meeting, to be held in July, is a major event, which I’m sure the Prime Minister would want to host personally, I would think the probability of seeing elections after that event are higher.
PORTER: How unique is this large coalition? In sort of, postwar Japanese politics?
OZAWA: In postwar politics the LDP, the Liberal Democratic party, has held onto a majority for most of postwar history. The highest number that they have been able to assemble in their peak was around three hundred. This time the number 350, through a three-party coalition, means that it goes above the two-thirds majority. So this is in itself a considerable factor. I think politics in Japan changed tremendously after the end of the Cold War. It had a major impact. We have seen different types of coalition governments come and go. Right now, I would say that the Japanese politics is still undergoing a transition period, and there would be perhaps one or two more elections necessary before we see a real stability of perhaps two major political parties.
PORTER: In foreign policy Japan has been a regional power. In some ways, Japanese influence has been used in the region to counter the influence of China. I asked Mr. Ozawa if Japan supports China’s bid for full membership in the World Trade Organization.
OZAWA: Yes. We have been urging our American friends that this is in the interest of the entire world. We have to have China to play a responsible role in the WTO and other organizations, because we need the major powers all playing responsible and constructive roles to have a better world.
PORTER: Both Japan and the United States must be very cautious in handling the China and Taiwan issue. Does the Japanese position on China and Taiwan differ significantly from the American position?
OZAWA: On China, we have said that we respect China’s arguing for one China. And we have cut off the diplomatic relations with Taiwan. However, we maintain our economic relations with Taiwan. I think, politically speaking, Japan’s position on the Taiwan issue is very clear. We do not encourage Taiwan to become independent. In fact, in reality, we discourage movements for independence in Taiwan. We want to see this issue resolved peacefully between the Chinese peoples. And we are convinced that the Chinese people are wise enough to handle this issue peacefully.
PORTER: There’s also been talk recently about Australia flexing its muscles as a regional power. Do you have any concerns about that? Or the role that Australia should play in this region?
OZAWA: Australia, I think, was put in a very difficult position about East Timor. And it has been playing an important and responsible role. One phenomenon that I notice is that for many years now Australia has been saying that it is part of Asia. Now some Asian countries have said, “Well yes, you are part of Asia economically, but we are not so sure about you in terms of culture and other areas.” Now with this new development of East Timor, the perception is, in Asia, that Australia has shown that it is a little bit away from Asia. That’s the opinion, the perception, that has been built. And I think this is a very unfortunate turn of events. Because Australia was acting very constructively and there was certainly a force led by Australia necessary in East Timor. Perhaps some of the rhetoric that came out from the Australian leaders were unnecessary or misunderstood.
PORTER: You mentioned East Timor. East Timor gained its independence from Indonesia and there is certainly concern that even more peoples will be seeking to follow their path. Are you concerned at all about the destabilizing nature of such movements throughout the region?
OZAWA: Indonesia is a huge country of well over two hundred million people. And it is composed of very diverse peoples. We think that the stability of Indonesia is critically important for ASEAN and for the region. ASEAN has maybe, a population of five hundred million altogether, and out of that forty percent is Indonesian.
PORTER: When you say ASEAN you mean the Association of South Eastern Asian Nations?
OZAWA: Exactly. And ASEAN is now ten nations altogether. The anchor has been, and I think will continue to be, Indonesia. Because of its sheer size. We do not want to see Indonesia become another Yugoslavia. I think it is in the interest of the countries in the region to see stability of that country. Of course, if more autonomy for the different regions, perhaps that is the way for stability. If we are to see more and more parts of Indonesia become independent, I have some thoughts about that, whether it’s really going to be the best solution or not. For instance, East Timor which has become independent, we look at the population—less than 800,000. How viable is that country going to be without continued assistance from other countries? This is a very difficult question, I think.
PORTER: Yes. And some of these other peoples are even smaller. And have even more economic problems. And we talked about whether or not the Japanese Self Defense Forces could be involved in the peacekeeping operations in East Timor, we may quickly run out of peacekeeping forces around the world if all of the peoples of Indonesia decided to seek independence.
OZAWA: Well Keith, we live in a very complex world. And the new international order that people talked so much about immediately after the Cold War, we see ten years later, is a very messy order. I would say maybe a disorder.
PORTER: My next question for you is about the ongoing discussion of expansion of the UN Security Council, and the potential for Japan to have a permanent seat. Is this still a high priority issue for Japan?
OZAWA: We have said that we have interest in becoming a member of the Security Council on a permanent basis. As you know, now our dues for the United Nations is close to twenty percent. That is to say, we bear close to one-fifth of the costs of the United Nations. And we think that if we are given a seat that we will be able to play a more, a more constructive role than we are playing now.
PORTER: Well, one last question for you. I think that just our American audience might be interested in. There is this talk about moving the national capital from Tokyo to somewhere else in the country. And I’m sure most Americans haven’t hear about this. Why might the capital be moved out of Tokyo, and what kind of time frame are we looking at for something like that to happen?
OZAWA: Well, Tokyo is a huge city of government, business, academia, culture, etc., and everything is so much concentrated in this city, within Japan. So the idea that has been discussed for a long time now, is to move the legislature and some administrative functions from Tokyo to somewhere outside, but no so far from Tokyo. So this is not a moving of Tokyo City itself somewhere else, but rather some functions of government. The difficult is to decide on exactly where. Because this is the difficult decision, even though a time frame has been set, it’s not been followed. A new time frame that has been set up, I think, mandates a decision, I think within the year. But because that time frame is approaching, the leaders of Tokyo have come out in strong protest about such a decision. So we haven’t seen the end of the story here.
PORTER: Toshiro Ozawa is the Acting Director of the Japanese Institute of International Affairs. In a moment we’ll hear from two other Japanese experts about the country’s changing role in the world.
TOSHIYA HOSHINO: We are now not so much concerned about the rise of nationalism, even by legislating national anthem or flag and so forth. So I think it is a kind of healthy transformation or change in the mind of the Japanese people.
MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
PORTER: Japan’s constitution has not changed since it was approved under Allied occupation following World War II. The constitution forbids Japan from having a normal military. I spoke with Professor Takashi Kawakami, from the Japan Defense Agency, about how this constitutional provision affects Japan today, and about attempts to change the constitution.
TAKASHI KAWAKAMI: Time has been changing right now, so some politicians and some theorists are still saying that the constitution should expand or be revised in the future.
PORTER: Under the current situation the US is the, the United States is the guarantor of Japanese security. Do the Japanese people feel confident that US troops would be put at risk to defend Japan?
KAWAKAMI: Well, that’s a question with Japan right now. Especially last August, in 1998, there was a tipped missile test here. And that was the first case when Japan’s people thinking about, can the US defend Japan or not. Then Japan really, Japan’s people really worrying about it.
PORTER: The concept, of theater missile defense and national missile defense, anything like that which could stop incoming ballistic missiles, during a military attack, has become a very hot issue; almost all over the world people are talking about the TMD. Do you predict that Japan will create a missile defense system?
KAWAKAMI: Japan can cooperate with the United States and we can probably, I think, purchase some equipment from the United States and we will. Japan will equip a TMD, I think. It’s better for Japan to do it, and I’m not sure it’s hit on the target or not, but it’s very, really politically important for Japan to invite TMD equipment for Japan. And also the argument that Taiwan is going to do, should get a TMD or not. So the Taiwan issue is different from this one. Because China is going crazy about it.
PORTER: So in Japan it’s a sort of a popular political issue, to talk about TMD?
PORTER: And that it wouldn’t necessarily be politically that difficult to convince the Japanese people that TMD is the way to go.
KAWAKAMI: Yeah, the tipped missile saved this kind of debate. I mean….
PORTER: Excuse me?
KAWAKAMI: Because of the type of the missile. Because of the type of missile launched, then Japan’s people and Japan’s mood have changed really drastically. Then we need…
PORTER: Yes. Since the Korean missile test?
KAWAKAMI: That’s right. That’s right. It’s been stimulated.
PORTER: Well, I really have one last area I wanted to ask you about. And that is that all of this talk, especially about TMD, also the fact that India and Pakistan are developing weapons, that there may be an Asian arms race, an increased, sort of more enthusiastic Asian arms race, underway. Do you see that happening?
KAWAKAMI: I understand. It might be, but in this case I personally think this is a great chance for Japan and the United States to invite China to arms control talkings. If China will be stimulated by a TMD, why don’t you cut your missile, cut the numbers of missiles? Then we can talk about it. That’s a great chance for us to do it.
PORTER: For China, if Japan or South Korea, for example, were to introduce TMD, for North Korea, for Russia, for China, their response—or at least the old Cold War thinking was, that their response would be that they would either build their own TMD or build lots more ballistic nuclear weapons.
KAWAKAMI: Well, it’s interesting that you mention that, because of the economic difficulties are so—they have to choose the building up the more, nuclear weapons. That is a different question. So what we did during the World War II, maybe we can talk about the arms control, if the response is in such kind a way. Then, if you put on the table talking about the missile, then we might be stopped developing the TMD. So this kind of idea should be considered.
PORTER: So that if we develop a TMD it will be another bargaining chip?
KAWAKAMI: That’s right.
PORTER: It will be another thing that we can bring to the arms control table?
KAWAKAMI: Yeah that’s right.
PORTER: Professor Takashi Kawakami, is from Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies.
For one final perspective on the changes in Japan, I spoke with Professor Toshiya Hoshino??, from Osaka University’s School of International Public Policy. The American press has recently carried stories about a rise of nationalism in Japan. The stories were triggered by new laws formalizing the national flag and the national anthem of Japan. I asked Professor Hoshino if he sees Japan becoming more nationalistic.
HOSHINO: I personally do not think so, but the objective fact, for instance, like the passage of the legislation to formalize the national anthem and the national flag of Japan, that, to some extent represents that the Japanese people are talking about nationalism. But, in a sense, it’s interesting why we haven’t had a national flag or anthem for many years.
PORTER: Well, that’s true, because I mean every country has a national flag and a national anthem. And I would assume that almost all every country its prescribed by law, what those things are. And so it’s not unusual. The unusual thing is that Japan just got around to doing this. Perhaps the thing about nationalism goes to the fact that the flag and the anthem both have imperial roots. Maybe people are afraid that the flag and the national, and the old anthem, speak to greater dreams for Japan—more…
PORTER: Expansionism. Yes.
PORTER: So they’re not worried about nationalism, they’re worried about expansionism.
HOSHINO: That was exactly the reason why we haven’t had that national anthem and the flag realized, or legislated. But I see the phenomenon in a totally different perspective. Maybe people are getting those things as a matter of fact. Why not having this? This is not the expression of nationalism, but probably this is the reaction from the self-restraint for the past.
PORTER: Are the Japanese people following the American presidential race at all? And are they aware of the fact that foreign policy is taking such a low priority, really, in the debates surrounding the American presidential race?
HOSHINO: Well, I sometimes feel nostalgic about the days when US presidential candidates talked about foreign policies, grand strategies, how the United States wants to lead the world to a good direction. We usually support the direction that US leaders want to be. And yes, you are quite right that recently foreign policy agendas are not on the high attention among the candidate. Well, the only thing I’m concerned about is the economic issues, or I should say, trade issues, for instance. That is in a sense a foreign policy matter. Well, in the past we had a huge amount of trade surplus. And nowadays China has a huge trade surplus vis-à-vis the United States, and we still have unsolved trade issues between us. So I do not want to see those issues explored, for instance, during the presidential campaign.
Yes, because sometimes in the past, especially at the beginning of the early days, at the beginning of the Clinton administration, well, the small trade issue tend to undermine what is supposed to be the healthy US-Japan overall relationship. So I do not want to see that the trade issues—they are important—but should not be treated as something that can undermine the US-Japan security, the US-Japan overall relationship. The other concern is that Japan is in serious economic trouble these days. And we are feeling that we have to do something about that, get out of this mess.
PORTER: There are also changes taking place in the cultural ties between the US and Japan. I mentioned to Professor Hoshino that Pokèmon, a Japanese import, has become a top-ranked movie and television program among children in America.
HOSHINO: It’s very good that Japan has something to attract Americans, or our friends in Asia. And as far as or relationship with the US in entertainment side, we have a huge deficit in it. So it may be good to balance, a little bit.
PORTER: That is Professor Toshiya Hoshino, from Osaka University’s School of International Public Policy. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
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