Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara criticized Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s vow to reduce dependency on atomic energy after the Fukushima disaster, saying instead the country should deepen its nuclear embrace to include weapons.
“Japan should absolutely possess nuclear weapons,” Ishihara said in a July 15 interview at his office in Tokyo, citing China and North Korea as potential threats. “I don’t think we can easily do away with atomic power. Nuclear energy is inexpensive if managed well,” he also said.
Ishihara has built a political career on taking on consensus views on everything from Japan’s pacifist constitution to its economic ties with the U.S., with a record of success with voters that’s withstood controversial remarks that have forced public apologies. The 78-year-old governor expressed regret in March after calling the earthquake and tsunami that left almost 21,000 people dead or missing “divine punishment” for the “egoism” of Japanese society.
The governor also said Kan has shown poor leadership, faulting the government for failing to boost taxes to pay for reconstruction and pare the record sovereign debt load.
Ishihara, who was re-elected in April to a fourth four-year term governing Japan’s richest and biggest city, criticized Kan’s handling of the March earthquake and tsunami that caused the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years. Kan, whose popularity is near record lows, has pledged to resign at an unspecified time once his legislative agenda is accomplished.
“He’s an anarchist,” Ishihara said of Kan. “He has no idea how to operate within an organization.”
In a 1990 Playboy magazine interview, Ishihara denied Japan slaughtered Chinese civilians in 1937 in Nanjing, prompting an outcry in China, which says more than 300,000 people were massacred. He co-wrote the 1989 best-seller, “The Japan That Can Say No,” which argued against dependence on the U.S.
“Ishihara says things most Japanese wouldn’t think of saying, but I don’t think his vision is one that most would embrace,” said Jeff Kingston, head of the Asian Studies program at Temple University’s Tokyo campus.
With a population of more than 13 million, Tokyo has a $1.1 trillion economy that is bigger than Australia’s and accounts for almost a fifth of Japan’s gross domestic product. Standard & Poor’s cut the city’s long-term credit rating in January after lowering Japan’s sovereign debt grade.
Sales Tax Increase
Ishihara called in the interview for raising the nation’s consumption tax to 20 percent from 5 percent. He said the ruling Democratic Party of Japan should form a government with the Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition groups to pass such a measure. His son Nobuteru Ishihara is a senior LDP lawmaker.
“Is there a country like Japan where the consumption tax is so low with such an advanced welfare system?” the governor said, advocating a grand coalition among major political parties to accomplish the task.
Kan’s top economic advisers have called for doubling the sales levy to raise revenue and avoid adding to the world’s largest debt burden. Japanese are split on the issue, with 45 percent in favor of raising the tax and the same number opposed, according to an Asahi newspaper poll published July 12. The paper surveyed 1,920 voters and gave no margin of error.
Kan’s approval rating fell to a low of 15 percent from 22 percent in June, according to the poll. The prime minister on July 13 called for gradually reducing the country’s reliance on nuclear power. The Asahi poll showed almost 80 percent of respondents are in favor of such a move.
Ishihara, who has called for “tearing up” Japan’s pacifist constitution in response to China’s growing economic and military influence, also said Japan should also develop conventional missiles for the country’s defense with a range of 10,000 kilometers (6,210 miles). He stressed that Japan wouldn’t target the U.S.
“If we were going to do it, it would likely be North Korea or China,” he said.
Ishihara at the age of 23 wrote a novel that won Japan’s most prestigious literary prize, then wrote the screenplay for the film version. He also covered the Vietnam War as a reporter, raced yachts and toured South America by motorcycle.
He was first elected to parliament in 1968 and served in two different LDP Cabinets before being elected governor as an independent.
“I’ve made controversial comments, but did I ever say anything that was wrong?” Ishihara said.