Formerly a commentator and executive chairman of conservative website Breitbart News, Stephen Bannon helped Donald J. Trump win the election as chief executive of his presidential campaign. Toshio Motoya spoke with Bannon – a holder of unique, distinguished views on world affairs – about topics including inside information about the United States-North Korea summit in February and the goals of the expanding China.
(M) Thank you for joining me today for this special interview.
(B) I am very honored to have been invited.
(M) You were the chief executive of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and your carefully considered tactics helped him achieve victory. First, I want to say how much I respect you for this. The presidential election is not determined by the total number of votes, but rather according to the electoral college with a set number of electors in each state. It seems you succeeded due to your thorough knowledge of this system – you used a successful tactic of focusing on states where Trump was close to victory and avoiding efforts in those where he had no chance of winning.
(B) I think the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton campaign didn’t understand this system. The popular vote and electoral college are as different as stroke play and match play in golf.
(M) Looking back at history, Republican policies have been more friendly to Japan. Democratic governments tend to have foreign policy that is more advantageous to China while excluding Japan. That is why I have long supported the Republican Party, and I definitely hoped for Trump to win. But in The United States and Japan alike, the media uniformly predicted a Clinton victory. I continued saying that Trump would triumph, and my prediction was right on the mark. The world fell into chaos during the eight years of the Democratic Barack Obama presidency. China continued expanding and augmenting its military power, while North Korea miniaturized nuclear weapons to a size that can be installed on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). If Clinton had won, I think the world would be in dire straits today.
(B) I agree with you 100%.
(M) You were senior counselor to the president until around seven months ago. The media made it sound like you were dismissed, but that wasn’t my view of the situation. Many news reports depicted you as a type of shadow president, so I figured you felt Trump would have more freedom to act if you left your position and supported him behind the scenes.
(B) Yes, you are right. I got involved in Trump’s campaign on August 14, 2016, 88 days before the election. Trump was lagging behind Clinton at that time with an approval rating of 14 points. I was chairman of Breitbart News, a conservative website endorsed by populists and nationalists, and I inspired these demographics to back Trump. I left the administration on August 1, 2017 because I realized I could more effectively help Trump from behind the scenes rather than in an official position.
(M) So I was right. Does that mean you have been supporting Trump ever since you stepped down as senior counselor to the president?
(B) In fact, this task has kept me busier since I left my position. Populist and nationalist support is essential to maintain the Trump administration. As I mentioned before, I have close ties with these people, and I am still working on Trump’s behalf.
(M) When did you become acquainted with Trump?
(B) In 2010. Trump asked me for advice about running for president in the 2012 election, and I told him to hold off because he definitely could not beat Obama. Trump started preparing for the next election in 2014. I determined the general public – rather than the elites– as the demographic to target, and provided various types of support so Trump’s policies could earn their understanding.
(M) Both Trump and I are real estate and hotel magnates. I comprehend his approach very well, possibly because we are businessmen in the same field and have similar ways of thinking. I hope and predict he will win re-election, but what do you think?
(B) Trump has been in danger for the past few months, including the congressional testimony of Michael Cohen, his former lawyer. If he can get through this, there will be absolutely no barriers to re-election.
(M) I am sure he will. If he wins, he will be in office until 2024. Vladimir Putin also won a fourth term and will be in power until 2024. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s term is until 2021, but he could stay in office until 2024 if the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) regulations are revised to allow four terms and he wins the party’s presidential election. I think the world can be changed if Trump, Putin, and Abe are in office until 2024.
(B) I agree.
(M) Trump and I also share an unsparing stance against China. In January 2017, the Chinese government criticized me for my book, which denies the Nanjing Massacre, being placed in APA Hotel rooms. As a result, APA Hotel rooms cannot be booked from China. I merely stated what I think is right, based on freedom of speech. I declared that, if there was any proof to refute what I said, I would welcome receiving it. The Chinese government did not respond. I’ve heard you also take a hard line on China.
(B) I believe China is our worst enemy.
(M) Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, who were backed by Deng Xiaoping, abided by the presidential limit of two five-year terms totaling 10 years. But Xi Jinping, the current president, has abolished this term limit. I cannot help but see this as an attempt by Xi to build his own empire, which is a threat to Japan.
(B) This is clear imperialism. Xi and the other extremists in the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) are using the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative to expand their influence from East Asia to Europe and even Africa in an attempt to gain global hegemony.
(M) We must stop this trend. China is reclaiming reefs in the South China Sea to build military bases as a way to obstruct Japan’s sea lanes and freedom of navigation (FON). The U.S. is opposing this by conducting FON operations in the South China Sea.
(B) China’s strategy is to control the South and East China Seas and impede Japan’s sea lanes.
(M) The Chinese navy does not control the Taiwan Strait, which is why Taiwan maintains its independence. However, China is stepping up its marine expansion and rapidly augmenting its naval power, including building at least two domestic aircraft carriers. Japan will be in danger if China captures Taiwan. Eventually, I think China would occupy Okinawa and turn Japan into one of its autonomous regions.
(B) You are 100% correct. China’s entire military budget is used for invasion preparations – not one dollar is spent on self-defense. As you point out, China is making moves towards Taiwan as well as Japan and the Philippines. Japan and the U.S. are naval countries, but China is not. It is reclaiming reefs in the South China Sea and building air bases to gain naval power.
(M) I don’t think the Chinese navy will be able to beat the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) any time soon. Still, China is rapidly allocating money to continually expand its armaments. President Ronald Reagan’s continued military expansion in the 1980s put economic pressure on the Soviet Union and led to its defeat. Today, we are in the midst of a new Sino-American cold war. With the U.S. serving a central role, its allies must also increase their military capabilities to defeat China. And just like the Soviet Union, I hope democracy divides China into several countries that each become democratic themselves. I feel Japan should abolish its upper limit for defense spending, which is 1% of the GDP; expand the MSDF; and augment our submarines in particular.
(B) The U.S. has sufficient power in the military, economic, and intelligence realms today. China is a paper tiger. However, the issue is that the U.S. lacks sufficient political determination. The Soviet Union collapsed due to unceasing, continuous pressure from Western countries, such as Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Japan. We must keep putting strong pressure on China in the same way.
(M) I feel this pressure is still too weak. In terms of domestic issues, China is repeatedly violating human rights and oppressing its citizens. It is persecuting the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where one million people are said to be incarcerated in prison camps; the Tibet Autonomous Region, where 70 years have passed since the invasion of Tibet; and Falun Gong. Despite this, the Sino-Japanese Journalist Exchange Agreement means Japanese journalists stationed in China cannot criticize China and report the truth. An agreement that limits accurate information and provides advantages to one country is in violation of freedom of speech. I believe the Japanese government must intervene and invalidate this agreement.
(B) I was not aware of that agreement.
(M) You should be able to find information about it. Japan cannot share accurate information about China, yet China and South Korea are spreading the fictitious Nanjing Massacre and comfort women stories. Many Japanese people become masochistic because they believe these falsehoods. I understand that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who received a consulting fee from China, advised Trump after he took office.
(B) Kissinger requested an advisor position. He stated that China is ascending while Japan and the U.S. are declining, and that Japan and the U.S. should change based on an awareness of this situation. After all, the U.S. defeated the Soviet Union with a similar tactic.
(M) Among its population of 1.3 billion, 940 million Chinese people have household registers in rural areas. Eighty million of the remaining urban dwellers are members of the CPC. Among them, only the top 20 or 30 million people are enjoying affluent lives by exploiting the majority living in rural areas. The wealthy class sends its children to American universities and transfers their assets overseas so they can flee China at any time. I think the one-party CPC regime that allows this distorted system should be toppled.
(B) I agree 100%.
(M) North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un traveled by train to Hanoi, Vietnam, where his second summit meeting with Trump took place in February. I suspect he was lectured about many different things by China during that time. I feel like Xi and Trump are struggling to gain control of North Korea, and that Kim is skillfully making use of these circumstances.
(B) My view is somewhat different. North Korea is a vassal state of China. All of North Korea’s technologies are from China, including nuclear weapons and ICBMs.
(M) I think North Korea detests China the most, and that its nuclear weapons are to guard against China. In 2004, there was a major explosion at Ryongchon Station near the North Korean border with China. This was an attempt by Chinese Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the CPC Jiang Zemin to assassinate Kim Jong Il (Kim Jong Un’s father who refused to stop nuclear development). In any case, countries never give up the nuclear weapons they obtain. The only exception is South Africa, which abandoned its nuclear weapons because the white government didn’t want to hand them over to the black government.
(B) I concur entirely about giving up nuclear weapons. Dictators also have them as a means of self-protection. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, who abandoned nuclear development, met a violent end.
(M) If North Korea and South Korea were integrated to form a nuclear “Korean Federation” with a population of roughly 80 million people, it would serve as a Chinese underling to threaten Japan. We must be wary of this.
(B) As long as North Korea has nuclear weapons, the U.S. will not permit unification.
(M) But what if North Korea concealed these weapons? I think strict inspections must be conducted to prevent that.
(B) One condition in the summit meeting was that North Korea scrap its nuclear complex in Yongbyon, but Kim Jong Un seemed greatly surprised when Trump also referred to two other nuclear facilities. The U.S. is extremely capable of gathering such information, and I think an important point in the American-North Korean agreement will be stationing inspectors in North Korea with the authority to investigate all facilities.
(M) I agree. I think Trump did a great job at the summit by avoiding easy compromises. Did you give him any advice?
(B) No, that’s Trump’s own style. He was aiming for a “big deal.” The comprehensive agreement was for the U.S. to provide economic aid with Japan in exchange for North Korea abandoning all of its weapons of mass destruction, including of course nuclear weapons but also missiles, biological, and chemical weapons. Kim Jong Un was not persuaded. Trump is a businessman, not a politician. The meeting ended without compromises because Trump’s goal is to resolve the issue in the most correct way, not at the fastest speed.
(M) I believe Japan must have its own nuclear deterrence to maintain a balance of power against Chinese and North Korean nuclear weapons. My thinking is that Japan should revise its constitution, abolish the Three Non-Nuclear Principles, and conclude a nuclear sharing agreement with the U.S. like that with the four North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries.
(B) I think there would be a huge political cost for Japan having nuclear deterrence. China knows that, if North Korea attacked Japan, the U.S. would wage nuclear revenge against Chinese cities. I believe the nuclear umbrella is fully functional. During the negotiations, the U.S. is also including the condition of disposing of intermediate-range missiles that can threaten Japan, in addition to ICBMs. Some news reports say these are not included, but that is fake news.
(M) At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(B) I hope they will have courage. With courage, they will be able to do many things for the world.
(M) Thank you for joining me today.
Date of dialogue: February 28, 2019
Born in 1953 in Virginia, the United States. After graduating from college, Bannon was an officer in the U.S. Navy from 1976 to 1983, when he served on a destroyer in the U.S. Seventh Fleet. He entered Harvard Business School in 1983 and worked in investment banking at Goldman Sachs after graduation. Bannon struck out on his own in 1990, managing a company that invested in the media and working as a film producer. He became executive chairman of Breitbart News, a conservative website, in 2012, and was a well-known commentator. He was appointed chief executive of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, and served as senior counselor to Trump until August 2017.