Q&A: "This Cold War Is Much More Dangerous"

Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo's 68-year-old governor, is one of Japan's most popular politicians. Co-author of the nationalistic, anti-American book The Japan That Can Say No, Ishihara was elected to the Japanese Diet's Upper House in 1968 and then in 1972 to the more powerful Lower House, where he spent 23 years and served as director-general of the environmental agency and as Transportation Minister. He was elected Tokyo governor in 1999 as an independent. Ishihara is an outspoken advocate of a beefed-up Japanese military and a tougher stance toward China. At the same time, he wants to curb Japan's dependence on the U.S.

Contributing Editor Robert Neff talked to Ishihara at the ornate Tokyo city hall. Excerpts:

Q: The new Bush Administration is said to be shifting U.S. policy priorities from Europe to Asia and from China to Japan. Is this for real?

A: Very much so, and I have a high regard for it. One reason Clinton focused more on China was for business. But when China tried to intimidate Taiwan, Clinton sent an aircraft carrier to the Taiwan Strait. So China pulled back. That became the trigger for the new bilateral defense guidelines [between Japan and the U.S.] agreed to by [former Prime Minister Ryutaro] Hashimoto and Clinton.

The only empire left in the world is China. When I met President Jiang Zemin in Tokyo, he told me China would liberate Taiwan by force if necessary. What is more, China is aiming nuclear weapons at India. This kind of country is scary. China is also noting that Okinawa used to belong to China. For these reasons, I was never so interested in an American Presidential election as in the last one. The appointments of [Secretary of State Colin L.] Powell and [Deputy Secretary of State Richard] Armitage were very suggestive for Japan, which is caught up in the cold war between the U.S. and China. This cold war is much more dangerous than the previous cold war.

Q: Will the U.S.-Japan security relationship become more important or somehow change?

A: It has already become more important, but the relationship will still change. After the new guidelines [in which Japan promised more logistical support for the U.S. in case of regional conflicts] were announced, Japan Broadcasting Corp. asked each prefectural governor how he or she would respond if the guidelines came into play. I was the only one who said I would completely follow them, because I don't want to lose Japan.

Q: Should Japan change its war-renouncing Article 9 of the constitution?

A: I think we have to change it. We need to change the third clause to allow us possession of war power. We need to protect ourselves, but not for aggressive purposes. Beyond that, when necessary, we would have to rely on the U.S.-Japan security treaty.

Q: How difficult would it be to change public thinking on this?

A: We already have our Self Defense Force, and it is fully funded. We can't acknowledge the right to attack enemies. But we must have the right to protect ourselves.

Q: Does Japan lack a global strategy?

A: Japan has no global strategy, militarily or even financially. Japan has lots of money, but it's being used for American strategic purposes. There's a lack of leadership. More than being spoiled by America we have been paved over by it.

Q: Do you see China as Japan's biggest threat?

A: Yes. North Korea is being manipulated by China. Besides, China is disputing the ownership of islands in the Pacific also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan. China is troublesome, so the U.S.-Japan security relationship is becoming more realistic. But the Japanese have felt a kind of emotional intimacy toward China culturally for a long time.

Q: Should Japan change its stance on U.N.-type collective defense operations?

A: We can't go as far as [sending troops to] Kosovo or Irian Jaya. The Japanese people wouldn't allow this. But in surrounding areas in East Asia, when there are hot flashes, Japan has to expand its involvement if it's crucial to regional East Asian security.

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