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Shigeru Ishiba:

Constitutional Revisions Not a Return to Militarism


Constitutional Revisions Not a Return to Militarism


In this exclusive interview, the secretary general of Japan's ruling party, the LDP, ponders Japan's future role in the Asian region.



Constitutional Revisions Not a Return to Militarism

By Sara Wu, Elaine Huang, Sydney Peng
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 530 )

Entering the Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo, a sign on the door deep at the end of the fourth-floor hall reads "President's Office." Separated by just one wall is the office of Shigeru Ishiba, the LDP secretary general that lost the party presidency in a come-from-behind victory by Shinzo Abe.

A thick white paper on the Japan Self-defense Forces and an analysis of the impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership sit on his desk. Since becoming the youngest member of Japan's Diet at the age of 29, Ishiba has been a Cabinet member several times, serving in such positions as Minister of Defense and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The 56 year-old Ishiba, a native of Tottori Prefecture on Honshu, is a picture of contrasts. The Japanese media sees Ishiba – a tall, strong man with piercing eyes – as the only politician capable of competing with Shinzo Abe, but to admiring voters he is a charming "otaku" fond of military replicas and an expert on military affairs.

How does he plan to move beyond the LDP's past errors, and what is his take on political and economic relations between Japan and its regional neighbors?

Q: The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is now back in power after having lost it. As the party's leader what are your thoughts on the process?

A: As the ruling party for the past half a century, the LDP took governing and being in power for granted, which caused it to wear out its welcome among the people and lose power.

Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan of the Democratic Party were not elected because the Democratic Party performed well, but because the LDP's respect and gratitude for the citizens had waned over its decades in power. That's what has led the people to vote against the LDP.

So the LDP must raise the consumption tax as soon as possible, push ahead swiftly with constitutional revisions, and ensure the safety of nuclear power, or do what is necessary to see through stalled policies.

Q: What are the LDP's policy priorities going forward?

A: The first order of business is reviving the Japanese economy. It is slowly but surely recovering at this time, but we cannot continue implementing an open-ended loose monetary policy or keep escalating fiscal outlays. Rather, what Japan needs is to achieve economic growth through reforms to the industrial structure.

Three Approaches to Reviving Japan's Economy

First, competition within Japan is intense, and corporations have been forced to drop wages and squeeze suppliers' manufacturing costs in order to survive, causing a decline in the competitiveness of Japanese businesses. Speaking in general terms, this hyper-competitive situation must cease.

Second is the issue of businesses retaining profits, where the profits derived from production activities are not reinvested, but rather retained within the enterprise. This has resulted in aging facilities and stagnant workers' wages.

Third, Japan still has many legal regulations that prevent overseas businesses from investing easily. So more incentive measures must be instituted to attract overseas enterprise investment in Japan. One seldom hears about Taiwanese investment in Japan, but the same also goes for enterprises from the United States, Europe or Korea. We must listen closely to these companies' needs.

At the same time, Japan's national debt is enormous, and we must also take steps to reduce the national debt, including raising the consumption tax.

Q: Since the election Prime Minister Abe has visited many Southeast Asian nations. What is the purpose of these visits?

A: If there is a role Japan should play in Asia it should be to work with the various nations in the region to forge mutually beneficial, cooperative relations to facilitate economic growth in the region's different countries. On the diplomatic level, we seek to work via a strengthened alliance with the US to maintain peace in the Asian region.

In addition, we hope Asian countries will understand the constitutional reforms Prime Minister Abe seeks to promote. Japan has absolutely no ambitions to return to the militarism of the past, but rather hopes that other countries understand that constitutional amendments are for the sake of a new peace and future. It is for the sake of these two objectives that Prime Minister Abe has visited a succession of countries across Asia.

LDP Founded to Amend the Constitution

Q: So the secretary general supports constitutional amendments?

A: Of course! (Voice rises as he gestures with open arms.) The Liberal Democratic Party was formed to amend the constitution. At present the Japanese Constitution is formulated in accordance with the concept that Japan is not independent. Japan has been independent for 60 years to date, and the Constitution should have been re-worked back then.

For instance, the Constitution stipulates that Japan cannot have a military. However, the Constitution says nothing about a fine military like our Self-defense Forces. The contents of the Constitution diverge with reality, so amending such a Constitution should be a given.

Q: Japan has had tense relations with other parts of Asia over the past year. What approach to foreign affairs is in the works going forward?

A: I am aware that Japan's relations with China and Korea are not very good at this time. With this in mind, both sides must do some work. Both China and Korea have seen new leaders selected, and on the heels of last year's and this year's elections in Japan, the LDP will remain in power for the next three years. No side should over-emphasize nationalism, which could raise mutual distrust.

Nationalism is a powerful force, and many politicians submit to its temptations. But it should not be that way.

Sure, patriotism is important; the LDP loves Japan and venerates the emperor. But it does not dismiss other countries like China and Korea just because Japan is a good country. Patriotism has its place, but it is not right to criticize other countries out of patriotism. By the same token, I would hope that China and Korea refrain from inflaming anti-Japanese sentiment.

Translated from the Chinese by David Toman