During his time as a government official, Shuhei Kishimoto also worked as a teacher at an American university. After leaving the ministry, he served as Chairman Hiroshi Okuda’s right-hand man at Toyota Motor Corporation before entering the world of national politics. Today he is a member of the House of Representatives who has won four single-member constituency elections. Toshio Motoya spoke with Kishimoto, a conservative controversialist who is also well versed in policy, about the North Korea threat, constitutional reform, and numerous other challenges facing the Japanese government today.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. You have given six talks at the Shoheijuku school since 2012 and attended two of my Wine Tasting and Discussion About Japan events. You have an extremely precise way of thinking, and we share many things in common. You also won a victory in a single-member constituency in last year’s general election.
(K) That was my fourth single-member constituency victory.
(M) That’s an amazing accomplishment. After graduating from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Law, you entered the Ministry of Finance. You then left the ministry and joined Toyota Motor Corporation in 2004. What did you do at Toyota?
(K) I spent two years as the manager of the Public Relations Department at the side of Chairman Hiroshi Okuda. At that time Okuda was also chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) and a member of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, which I helped him with.
(M) Right after you quit, Toyota was the target of immense criticism in the United States. National interests have more weight than the truth there, sometimes.
(K) President Donald J. Trump did not come up with the concept of “America First” – it has existed for a long time.
(M) American presidents tell lies and make strong assertions for the sake of their national interests. Japanese people believe too much in the idea that people are fundamentally good. Many people think conversations will lead to understanding, and they don’t comprehend international politics based on the logic of power.
(K) Friendship can grow between individuals, but there is no fellowship between nations. In diplomacy, two countries use each other to maximize their national interests. The Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration was signed in 1956 at the time of the Ichiro Hatoyama Cabinet. During this negotiation process, the Soviet Union proposed peace treaty conditions of returning the Habomai Islands and Shikotan Island. However, American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles intimidated the Japanese government by saying that, if Japan accepted these conditions, the U.S. would not return Okinawa to Japan, which is commonly referred to as the “Dulles threat.” I think Dulles’ true desire was to prevent Japan and the Soviet Union from entering into a peace treaty and becoming closer. Prime Minister Hatoyama ended up turning down this proposal about the return of the islands.
(M) Right after World War II, the U.S. did not attempt to contribute to the territorial issues around Japan, such as the Northern Territories and Takeshima. At that time, it was the world’s sole nuclear power, and it could have resolved these issues using force. However, I think it didn’t do so based on its design to leave behind points at issue that forced Japan to depend on the U.S.
(K) The American tactic is to make all other countries quarrel between themselves, not just Japan.
(M) Diplomacy is a war waged through words, and the participants cannot be friendly in a thoughtless way. Many people seem to misunderstand this. Diplomacy actually requires a backdrop of military strength, which is impossible according to the Japanese constitution. That is why Japan has a weak presence in diplomacy. Still, I think Japan should speak up more to China and South Korea. In particular, we should censure South Korea more strongly for reneging on the Japanese-South Korean agreement.
(K) South Korean President Moon Jae In easily repudiated this agreement, which contained the word “irreversible” and for which the U.S. for all intents and purposes served as an observer. I find his statement unacceptable, both as a member of the National Diet and as a citizen.
(M) The Japanese government should declare this plainly. Moon sent a special envoy to Kim Jong Un of North Korea on March 5, after the end of the PyeongChang Olympics. They agreed to hold a top-level conference in April. South Korea has economic strength dozens of times greater than North Korea, but it is being fully taken in by North Korea. If the two Koreas were united as a federation with nuclear weapons, Japan would definitely be the first victim. I think China would use this Korean Federation – possessing South Korea’s regular military force, economic power, and technological strength – to threaten Japan. Japan might become an autonomous region of China, which believes in the doctrine of a “Greater China.” China’s objective is to outstrip the U.S. and gain global hegemony in 2049, the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. I suspect China will try to overcome Japan to make up for the clear difference between China and the U.S., which has greater military, economic, and technological strength.
(K) I agree entirely. The Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore are already part of Greater China in an economic sense, and a tremendous amount of trade takes place between them. A Taiwanese fund has been launched specifically for acquiring small to medium enterprises in Japan, which have technologies but lack successors to pass them to. We must protect Japan’s technological strength against such actions. That is the government’s job.
(M) Few politicians feel a sense of impending crisis about this. Looking at the global situation, we can determine that Japan has the highest potential of being targeted by North Korean nuclear weapons, yet the people who feel a sense of danger about this are the minority. If the U.S. agreed with North Korea to allow North Korea’s current nuclear weapons – while ceasing further nuclear development and not possessing intercontinental ballistic missiles – the nuclear threat would be directed at Japan, rather than at its compatriot of South Korea.
(K) I think China feels the most gratitude about North Korea’s existence as a nuclear state. That is why it sends oil to North Korea and purchases its coal despite the United Nations’ economic sanctions.
(M) I believe North Korea is an essential buffer zone not just for China, but also for Russia, the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. In contrast, Kim Jong Un is afraid of China. A major explosion occurred near Ryongchon Station in northern North Korea in 2004. This was a failed attempt by Chinese Chairman of the Central Military Commission Jiang Zemin to kill Kim Jong Il. Jiang had summoned Kim Jong Il and urged him to abandon his nuclear program, which Kim Jong Il refused. That is why Jiang used 800 tons of TNT – which had been prepared several months in advance – and tried to kill Kim Jong Il on his way home from China. The U.S. or Russia leaked this assassination plot to prevent North Korea from becoming a Chinese vassal state, and Kim Jong Il narrowly escaped death.
(K) Both China and the U.S. skillfully use aggression and gentle persuasion for different purposes. The American attitude regarding North Korea is that it might launch a preemptive strike, or it might instead suddenly recognize North Korea as a nuclear power in a conditional way. I think we must be prepared for the possibility of the U.S. forsaking South Korea and Japan.
(M) During the Cold War, the U.S. deployed Pershing II missiles and other weapons after the Soviet Union deployed its SS-20, an intermediate-range ballistic missile equipped with nuclear weapons, in Europe. The U.S. also entered into a nuclear sharing arrangement with Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states. If the U.S. recognizes North Korea as a nuclear state, Japan should ask the U.S. for a nuclear sharing arrangement like the European one of the past. To that end, I think we need a new Diet resolution abolishing the Three Non-Nuclear Principles.
(K) We must be prepared for the scenario of the U.S. abandoning Japan.
(M) We should also revise Article 9 of the constitution. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has talked about adding to the constitution, but I think we must clearly stipulate that the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) are an army, rather than just specifying them in the constitution. Constitutional reform would be pointless if the JSDF had to obey the same weapon-use standard as today, which is the exercise of police powers. Instead of the current “positive list” that indicates what the JSDF is allowed to do, we need a “negative list” that instead describes prohibited actions, like the militaries of other countries. We should also allow for the creation of a court-martial system so JSDF personnel are not judged according to criminal law.
(K) I have a slightly different view of Article 9. I am against including only the JSDF in the constitution, and I think Abe might have spoken about this without thinking deeply. Instead of adding the JSDF to Article 9, I believe we should add text clearly specifying the right of self-defense. We should also stop sending the JSDF to the other side of the globe. Besides Article 9, there are many points that need to be revised such as local governmental autonomy, the right to know, right to dissolve, etc.
(M) I think Abe understands the issues like those I have pointed out. However, for constitutional change we would need a constitutional reform proposal in the Diet with two thirds of the members and a majority vote in a national referendum – despite the anti-Japanese media, citizens who have been educated by mistaken textbooks, and Diet members with a wide range of views from the right to the left. I think some comprise is necessary if this is the only possible timing, considering the growing North Korea threat.
(M) Every year, I attend a New Year’s Eve party at a hotel in Las Vegas. I always share a table with a former American air force general. At the party two months ago, I spoke with this general about American military action against North Korea. I suggested a limited air strike with prior warning, in which Kim Jong Un is allowed to keep his life and maintain the current national system. The U.S. could specifically point out and declare which nuclear weapon and missile-related facilities it will destroy, and then use cruise missiles, Tomahawks, and B2 bombers to carry out an air strike. The general said that preparations for all-out war are necessary when conducting a limited attack. This would take over six months, so no strike could be carried out in February or March. He said that a “decapitation strategy” could be immediately executed to assassinate Kim Jong Un only. However, it is possible that a fierce fight would break out over who is to succeed him, leading to major chaos in which China gains total control of North Korea, bringing the U.S. and China into opposition at the 38th Parallel (Military Demarcation Line). The general also said the U.S. will not start war unless it benefits national interests or has positive impacts on the president’s re-election.
(K) I think any actual military action would be a major risk for Trump. On March 1, he declared a policy of restricting imports of iron, steel, and aluminum. This is clearly the start of a trade war targeted at China. Looking at the whole I don’t think this will benefit the U.S., but I suspect there is no one left to admonish Trump after so many top staff members have left his administration.
(M) Since his victory, Trump has thought of nothing but winning re-election. His approval rating hasn’t dropped under 30%, no matter how much CNN and other media outlets criticize him. He is striving to gain 51% of the votes by winning over 21% of the people from the 70% who don’t currently support him. That is why he has to show voters that he is trying to fulfill the campaign pledges he made, even if these measures are nonsensical. I think his iron and steel import restrictions are part of this.
(K) I agree. Mid-term elections will be held in the U.S. this year, and Trump is devoting 120% of his power to help the Republican Party win. The evangelical Christians, his main supporters, are highly in favor of moving the embassy to Jerusalem.
(M) It is also important that the U.S. be prosperous right now. People often ask me what defines a good hotel, and I respond that it is a profitable hotel. APA Hotels are described as small, but they make money due to our many repeat customers and high level of customer satisfaction. The same applies to Trump – if he can satisfy voters with a better economy, he will certainly be re-elected no matter how much he is criticized. I think he will focus his attention on that, more than anything.
(K) You and Trump are both businesspeople, so maybe you understand how he thinks.
(M) An article entitled, “Why Business Hotels are Sluggish Despite Full Occupancy” was published in Shukan Toyo Keizai magazine. It said growth was sluggish in the APA Hotel and Toyoko Inn chains, but APA Hotel is actually experiencing increased income and profit, which is contrary to the headline. Japan is particularly renowned for its consumer electronics and cars, but APA Hotel has created compact rooms and kept down carbon emissions to one third those of regular urban hotels. We are maintaining a high degree of customer satisfaction while also offering environmentally friendly, energy-saving hotels with low construction and running costs.
(K) I frequently patronize APA Hotels, and I like the large public baths. But aren’t they a bit fancy for business hotels?
(M) You have to look at it a different way – utility and water costs are actually lower when you install large public baths in hotels with a certain number of rooms. APA Hotel’s standard is to install these baths in hotels with 300 or more rooms.
(K) I see.
(M) Japan’s major issue right now is the declining birthrate and aging population. I think we should revive the extended family to resolve this. Having three generations living together would make it possible to pass down wisdom to the younger generations, and mothers could work while their parents or grandparents watch the children. I feel the biggest tragedy in contemporary society is the people who die alone, yet more and more people are living by themselves. To stop this trend, we need policy that encourages extended families. For instance, real estate tax could be cut in half for large homes where three generations live together, and subsidiary aid could be given based on the number of children.
(K) Many people still live in three-generation homes in Toyama Prefecture and Ishikawa Prefecture, your home region. I’ve heard this makes it possible for young mothers to work outside of the home.
(M) Another benefit would be enhanced education in the home, since children would be living with many adults.
(K) There is an American statistical study about the difference between how children with scholarly abilities and children with good human qualities turn out. The result is that children with good human qualities grow up to earn more and tend not to get involved in crimes, compared to children with scholarly abilities. Things such as being able to say greetings and being able to cope with difficult circumstances are more important than having scholarly abilities. This kind of upbringing was lost from Japanese education in the postwar period.
(M) Rather than saying “lost,” I think it’s more accurate to say it was purposefully lost. The U.S. studied Japan even during World War II, and it concluded that unity was Japan’s strength. The U.S. worked to break up the family as a way to get rid of this strength.
(M) Japan has never been divided like Germany or Korea, but the U.S. worked to divide Japan from the inside. One part of this plan was the Press Code set forth by the occupation army in 1945. Member of the House of Representatives Mio Sugita asked a question about the Press Code in the National Diet in 2014. Government witness Koichi Mizushima (counsellor, minister’s secretariat, Ministry of Foreign Affairs) responded, “The Press Code was invalidated when the Treaty of San Francisco came into effect.” However, the media still abides by it. Because this code prohibits “Greater East Asia Propaganda,” statements on TV about the “Greater East Asian War” are cut. Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori was uniformly attacked by the media for saying Japan is the “country of the gods” because the code bans “Divine Descendant Nation Propaganda.” However, the general public does not know the Press Code exists, because the media is entirely silent on this topic.
(K) They could learn about its content.
(M) Yes, it’s available online. Japan was too strong during World War II. The U.S. thoroughly de-fanged Japan through measures such as this regulation of the information media, purposefully left points of conflict like the territorial issues in the surrounding region, and worked to create a firm Japan-U.S. security structure in the Cold War era. However, the Cold War ended almost 30 years ago. Japan should become an autonomous, independent nation, and we must amend the constitution to that end. We should transform the one-sided Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and enter into an alliance of equal standing with the U.S.
(K) Trump is quite determined, and Japan should have a more determined stance against the U.S. If we are to oppose China with the Japan-U.S. alliance, I think Japan should first make the U.S. revise the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.
(M) It is certainly true that the troops of other countries are not usually stationed in respectable nations. Still, I can’t imagine not having the Japan-U.S. alliance considering today’s geopolitical situation.
(K) This alliance is important, and I think these bases are unavoidable. But I feel the current Status of Forces Agreement is much too unilateral.
(M) Some people object to American aircraft having landed at coastal or local government heliports out of safety considerations, but what would happen if they were forced to fly to bases and ended up crashing on civilian homes in between? Parts should not be dropped, but that is a potential risk of air flight.
(K) I understand that. However, in Germany the police are able to investigate accidents involving the U.S. Armed Forces. The Japanese police doesn’t have the authority to investigate.
(M) The Japanese and German constitutions were also enacted by different processes. The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, which is the constitution of Germany, was made and ratified by Germans. In contrast, the Japanese constitution was created by the U.S. Germany can speak out against the U.S. according to its independent constitution, but Japan cannot do so at present. Japan depends on the U.S. in the military realm, so it cannot make strong statements against the U.S. I think Japan should first revise its constitution, approve having an army, and gain an equal military standpoint before asking to amend the Status of Forces Agreement. I think lively discussions will take place on constitutional change going forward, and I hope you will work hard to turn Japan in a good direction. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(K) I hope that young people will fully study history. History is written by the victors, but the viewpoint of the defeated party is also important. This year marks 150 years since the Meiji Restoration, which is mostly discussed based on the history written by the Meiji government. But almost 10,000 people died in the Boshin War, and Saigo Takamori – the hero of Segodon, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) historical drama on air right now – died as a member of the rebel army during the Satsuma Rebellion, so he is not enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine. Rather than totally accepting the Meiji government’s history, I wish for young people to also look at the history from the viewpoint of the former shogunate and Satsuma armies, who are regarded as rebels.
(M) Newspapers, TV programs, and books used to be our information sources, but today people can find a broader range of knowledge online. I hope that young people will research on their own to find the truth. I always say, “People who learn the truth become conservative.” Thank you for joining me today.
(K) Thank you.
Date of dialogue: March 6, 2018
Born in 1956 in Wakayama City. Graduated from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Law in 1980 and entered the Ministry of Finance (MOF). Studied abroad at Princeton University in the United States in 1995, and served as a guest lecturer in Princeton’s Department of East Asian Studies from 1996. After working in positions including director of the MOF’s Treasury Division, Financial Bureau, he left the MOF in 2004 and joined Toyota Motor Corporation while also working as a Cabinet Office policy councilor. He successfully ran in his first House of Representatives election in 2009, and he is currently in his fourth term. His published works include A Pilot of Wisdom (Shueisha Shinsho).