Makoto Oniki worked as a bank employee and prefectural assembly member before entering national politics. This young Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member is the target of a great deal of hope and serves as acting director of the LDP Health, Labour and Welfare Division, which created the work-style reform bill that is the centerpiece of the current National Diet session. Toshio Motoya spoke with Oniki, who is also ambitious about constitutional change, regarding topics such as future constitutional reform challenges and measures against information warfare.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. You have attended multiple Shoheijuku school meetings, as well as my Wine Tasting and Discussion About Japan event. I invited you here because you are a conservative, like myself.
(O) Thank you for having me! I am currently acting director of the Health, Labour and Welfare Division. This morning the work-style reform bill was approved in the Health, Labour and Welfare Division, and arrangements were completed within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
(M) I’m glad that’s finally been accomplished. The global situation is growing increasingly tense, such as Kim Jong Un’s sudden visit to China and request for support from Xi Jinping. Considering this, it often seems like the Japanese National Diet is acting in deplorable ways. What do you think?
(O) As you say, the National Diet has long focused solely on the Moritomo Academy issue, even though it costs 300 or 400 million for each day in session. It makes sense to criticize the Diet and ask why it isn’t working on other things.
(M) Now that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is attempting to take up constitutional reform in earnest, the leftist media is bashing him regarding all topics as a conspicuous way to impede reform. It is true that Diet members in favor of constitutional change occupy two thirds of the seats in the Upper and Lower Houses, but they do not share consistent goals of what to reform. Abe’s true desire is probably to gain a consensus on the Constitution of Japan reform draft set forth by the LDP in 2012, but Komeito will clearly not agree. This party has long said it will only allow for additions to the constitution. In consideration of Komeito, the LDP has left Hiroyuki Hosoda (chairperson of the Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision of the Constitution) to handle this with the aim of leaving the first and second paragraphs of Article 9 as-is while adding a new third paragraph. I think the constitution should be revised in two stages. First, we should add two new clauses to Article 9 to show that constitutional change, previously thought to be impossible, can be implemented. When there is a growing momentum to make Japan into a decent, independent nation, we should then implement another reform. The true hurdle is not the motion in the National Diet, but rather gaining at least a majority of votes in the national referendum. I feel this conclusion came about based on the LDP’s good understanding of these circumstances, and that it is putting aside its true intentions for now.
(O) I agree. The best method would be to remove the current second paragraph from Article 9, clearly specify the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), and clearly state that the JSDF is an army as well as its position. Considering the international honor of our military personnel, an extremely important point is ensuring the legal standpoint of soldiers who kill or wound people during combat, as well as the status of soldiers who are prisoners of war.
(M) Yes, we must allow the JSDF – as an army – to execute the same actions as other countries for the sake of Japan’s self-defense. Right now, the JSDF’s standard for utilizing weapons is the same as a police force; it can basically only use arms for legitimate self-defense, meaning it cannot conduct preemptive attacks. For example, in combat between fighter aircraft, the plane waiting for an attack will be shot down in most cases. War cannot be waged based on the concept of merely returning attacks. I think the prime minister would approve an extralegal measure so the JSDF could act like a regular military if Japan were to wage a self-defense war today. However, such a measure would definitely not be easy for other nations to comprehend.
(O) The current constitution does not provide for court-martials, so a JSDF member who kills or wounds someone during fighting would be judged in a court according to normal criminal law. In extreme situations, the JSDF could not protect our citizens if it seemed like their fate would be decided by judges who know nothing about military affairs. We must earnestly discuss whether we can safeguard Japan under the current constitution. And in the end, we should revise the constitution in a way that many citizens can get behind.
(M) I think the North Korea crisis is an opportunity, as lively discussions on constitutional reform could only take place at such a timing. Across the globe, the threat of war is actually the highest in East Asia right now. Japan’s neighbors are all nuclear states: China, Russia, North Korea, and we can even add the United States to that list. The question is how Japan can maintain peace and stability in these circumstances. The more I think about this, the more incredibly anxious I feel. We should instead use this situation to enter into a nuclear sharing arrangement with the U.S., like that it has concluded with four North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries. This would allow Japan and the U.S. to jointly manage American nuclear weapons and provide Japan with deterrence. To that end, we need a Diet motion to abolish the Three Non-Nuclear Principles (which are not constitutionally binding). Just specifying the JSDF in the constitution is not enough; we must start from scratch to reconsider everything Japan has done for national security over the 70 years since the end of World War II. Wide-ranging discussions of this type are essential.
(O) I agree entirely.
(M) The U.S. is now superbly favorable to Japan, including the administration of the Republican President Donald J. Trump. Historically, Democratic governments have been anti-Japanese. Trump initially received diplomatic advice from Henry Kissinger, but Trump has recently changed his policy. Kissinger was against Japan and for China, as shown by his statement, during a 1971 meeting with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, that the traditional U.S.-China relationship would not permit Japan’s rearmament. Kissinger apparently still receives a consulting fee from China. Trump is switching his stance on China, including appointing Randall Schriver, who takes a hard line against China, as assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs this year. The U.S. imposed import restrictions on iron, steel, and aluminum products in March, a clear shot at China. However, I am extremely unsatisfied that Japan was not excluded from these restrictions. I was disappointed by this decision because Trump is in close communication with Abe, and it seems like Japanese-American collaboration has reached a level of closeness never seen before.
(O) Yes, but I think this will change during negotiations from now on.
(M) In addition to serving as the LDP Health, Labour and Welfare Division acting director, what are your other roles at present?
(O) I am also chairman of the Committee on Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in the House of Representatives.
(M) The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) is also under the authority of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT). If JCG patrol boats had dealt more strictly with Chinese fishing boats near the Senkaku Islands, the collision incident wouldn’t have occurred. More new patrol boats are being built these days. The old ones are given to Southeast Asian countries, which helps strengthen the marine encirclement around China. Of course, the JSDF plays a major role in defending the Senkaku Islands, in addition to the JCG. The Ground Self-Defense Force founded its Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, the equivalent of the American Marine Corps, and a structure is in place to recover the islands if they are captured. China and North Korea are traditionally unfriendly, yet Kim and Xi are meeting without Japan knowing what is going on. We must step up our vigilance.
(O) I agree. Japan is a maritime nation, and protecting our borders and outlying islands is a matter of extreme importance. I asked a question about land ownership by foreign nationals in the House of Representatives Committee on Judicial Affairs. Other countries always limit land possession and usage by foreign citizens, but Japan has no such restrictions. I questioned why this situation has not changed. We must make efforts to safeguard our borders and outlying islands, including promoting the economies of these islands.
(O) I have a piece of news to report. I previously introduced Yoshiro Kishida of the National Museum of the Pacific War in Texas to you. He is still working hard there. The Japanese garden in the museum was renovated, and the rededication ceremony will be held on April 30 with attendance by Yasuhide Nakayama (chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs), Member of the House of Councillors Shigeharu Aoyama, and Member of the House of Representatives Yoshiaki Harada.
(M) I heard that an exhibition at the National Museum of the Pacific War contained erroneous information saying Japan stole Okinawa from China, and that Aoyama directly told the museum director about the history of Okinawa, leading to the phrase “from China” being removed. At the Pacific Aviation Museum in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, I also found false information that said the Japanese Army killed 250,000 Chinese people for giving refuge to airmen who fled to China after the Doolittle Raid (the first air raid on Japan). I contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) via Member of the House of Representatives Kenya Akiba, and the consulate-general lodged a protest, leading to the correction of the panels. The Japanese-language text was properly revised, but the English has been changed from “250,000” to “countless.” It is not true that the Japanese Army killed countless Chinese citizens. If the consulate-general recognized this, it would be the equivalent of recognition by the Japanese government as well, so I requested that another protest be made. The Japanese objection led to the Japanese text being corrected, but the English is still wrong. Most people who visit Hawaii are Americans who will read the English panels. Why did the Pacific Aviation Museum do something so underhanded? The answer is because China gave donations to the museum. China has expended time and money to wage information warfare and circulate stories about bad things done by Japan in the past. To oppose this, Japan should create a “Ministry of Information” that is separate from the MOFA with a budget of 300 billion yen and 3,000 personnel. It should monitor news reports from around the world and refute any mistaken information in that language within 24 hours. I have been saying this for five or six years, but nothing has been done.
(O) I feel the same way, but that would be rather difficult to accomplish.
(M) Japan doesn’t have a monitoring structure of that sort, which is why people believe in myths like the killing of 300,000 people in Nanjing and forcible transportation of 200,000 comfort women into sexual slavery. In January 2017, there was an outcry about my book that denies the Nanjing Massacre being placed in APA Hotel rooms. I asked that any mistakes in the book be pointed out, but the Chinese government did not respond. This means it can officially no longer play the Nanking Massacre card. I spoke out against the Pacific Aviation Museum exhibition because I wanted to nip the possibility in the bud that China could say Japan massacred 250,000 Chinese who helped the Doolittle airmen. Today wars do not involve exchanges of fire – cyber and information warfare are the main types of fighting. One facet of this is efforts to guide the international public opinion in advantageous directions. Japan must be prepared for these fights. I suspect the next historical falsehood brought up will be the issue of forced labor, as evidenced by the film The Battleship Island that opened in South Korea last year. When Japan objected, they evaded the issue by saying it was just a movie, but this is a vicious method of manipulation.
(O) These things just keep coming up.
(M) Japan has been negligent up until now and has not protested each of these issues. The Japanese educational system teaches false information and the mass media spreads incorrect news, which is why people have continually believed in these falsehoods. But with the widespread use of the Internet, I think this faith in the news is changing a fair amount due to Trump, who decries the traditional media as “fake news” on Twitter. I feel like fewer Japanese people are simply swallowing what they learn from TV programs and newspapers.
(O) I agree. It seems like information literacy is growing among the citizens, mainly the younger generations.
(M) In these circumstances, it is the job of Diet members to protect Japan from worldwide efforts to portray Japan with contempt. For instance, Japan makes huge financial contributions to the United Nations, but there are few Japanese UN personnel. That is why it exclusively makes decisions that are disadvantageous to Japan.
(O) Yes, that is true…
(M) Furthermore, in postwar Japan there is a so-called “stealth complex” of graduates from The University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Law. This group has controlled the bureaucracy, political world, and business circles as well as the legal world and media. It stems from the censors who worked as pawns of the American occupation forces right after World War II. The Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ) blacked out text in books before and during the war, but afterwards it demanded that publications be revised so no proof remained of this censorship. We know that it also seized and burned inexpedient books published before and during the war, and even opened and checked private messages sent through the mail. The censors who took part in these efforts by the occupation army profited from Japan’s defeat in the war, and they made efforts to avoid being criticized as traitors after the Treaty of San Francisco. These people have indirectly ruled Japan according to the American intentions using the elite figures who excelled at test-result-focused education, mainly graduates from The University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Law. One example is the GHQ’s Press Code that is still in effect in the form of voluntary restraints. We must quickly fix this, which is why I am working to establish a correct view of history in Japan through my activities such as founding the APA Japan Restoration Foundation, “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest, and Shoheijuku, and also launching the new APA Japan Restoration Prize.
(O) I fully endorse these efforts.
(M) To ensure that these activities bear fruit, I hope Abe will win his third presidential election this autumn and serve as prime minister for three terms totaling nine years. The LDP was rather leftist 10 years ago, when I started the essay contest. Toshio Tamogami, then chief of staff of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force, won the Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Prize) for his essay that said Japan was a good country. He was dismissed because this contradicted the government’s official view that Japan was a bad country for invading China and other reasons. It would be ridiculous for a top military figure to say that Japan is a bad country and then ask his subordinates to put their lives on the line to protect it. That was the point at which the LDP was farthest to the left, and it was consequently defeated in the 2009 general election and lost power. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) governed for three years and three months after that point, and the chaos of the administration resulted in Abe becoming prime minister again. If a regime change had not occurred at that point, I can’t imagine how low Japan would have fallen. Stock prices, the unemployment rate, and other indices have been improved remarkably, and Japan is enjoying good economic conditions. Yet the media doesn’t report on these things, and I think many citizens misunderstand what is happening.
(O) I think APA Group’s continual progress is partially responsible for the positive economy.
(M) Japan is on its way to becoming a major tourism destination. Twenty years ago, the number of foreign tourists totaled around four million, but in 2017 they reached 28.69 million. The government’s targets are 40 million inbound visitors by 2020 and 60 million by 2030, and I am sure the tourism industry will keep growing.
(O) The Japan Tourism Agency is also under the authority of the MLIT, so I am keeping an eye on this trend.
(M) The MLIT should invest more money in infrastructure, including signs for foreign tourists. I also think traffic signals should specifically count down the seconds until they change. Traffic signals for cars are too high, and it is dangerous that drivers cannot see them and pedestrians at the same time. In Europe, traffic signals for cars are installed at lower spots. I know this because I like cars and have driven in many countries across the world.
(O) I see.
(M) There are some other things about Japanese roads that bother me. The guard rails are a particular problem. Japanese guard rails protect nearby buildings from cars, but they are not designed to safeguard the people inside the vehicles, which is the most important point. The safest and cheapest way to protect passengers is concrete blocks along the roads. If a car crashes into a concrete block at an angle of 45 degrees or less, the car slides along the blocks, which absorbs the impact and significantly reduces the damage to passengers. Most Japanese guard rails are made from iron supports and wires, and there are gaps between them in some places. In 2012, there was an accident on the Kan-Etsu Expressway when a bus driver fell asleep at the wheel. The bus went into the gap and rammed into a soundproof wall, and seven people died. There was also an accident on the Umi no Nakamichi Bridge in Fukuoka in 2006. A drunk driver rear-ended another car that fell into the ocean, and three children drowned. This accident was caused by the fact that the guard rails on the left and right sides of the road had different strengths. The rail on the roadway side was strong enough to stop a car, but the one on the pedestrian side could only withstand collisions with people. The car plunged into the ocean after going over the sidewalk and hitting the rail on the pedestrian side. Two similar accidents with three fatalities have occurred on the bridge in front of the APA Group Kanazawa Head Office. If the height difference between the roadway and sidewalk is larger than the wheel radius, few cars will run up onto the sidewalk. But these accidents occur if there is a vehicle with large wheels or if the height difference is lower due to snow or other causes. The responsibility for these accidents should lie with the government office that manages the roads. But during the trials, these issues have not been raised and the bureaucrats have been protected, while the drivers have been portrayed as solely culpable. The same is true of the mass media.
(O) I remember the accident in Fukuoka well.
(M) The guard rail designs aren’t changed because it would put existing contractors out of jobs. Still, I want to ask for whose sake road administration is performed. No progress can be made unless the causes of accidents are thoroughly investigated and improvements are made. APA Hotel does this all the time – our new hotels are always more advanced than older ones.
(O) I will take a close look at the Fukuoka accident.
(M) Please do so. Car safety features are rapidly becoming more advanced, such as automatic braking, and the number of traffic accidents is decreasing. Yet if we thoroughly investigate the causes of these accidents, I think we would see that more than 1,000 accidents are caused by guard rails in Japan every year. As a member of the Committee on Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, I hope you will lead the MLIT with this viewpoint to correctly elucidate why accidents happen and prevent them from occurring. I think this would save not only the family members of the victims, but also the people who are charged with crimes.
(O) Yes, I agree.
(M) At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(O) Seventy-three years have passed since the end of World War II, and it is now possible for us to talk about how Japan should protect itself. Based on this, I hope everyone will think and discuss what kind of constitution we should have. I hope we will take a step forward this year on starting new discussions about revising the constitution with participation from young people.
(M) The first step is having the JSDF organization recognized in the constitution, but that cannot be the only step. We must also make it into an army that can fully protect Japan. Let’s work hard to achieve that. Thank you for joining me today.
(O) Thank you.
Date of dialogue: March 29, 2018
Born in 1972 in Fukuoka City. Graduated from Kyushu University’s Department of Law, Faculty of Law in 1995 and started working at The Nishi-Nippon Bank (currently The Nishi-Nippon City Bank). After resigning from the bank in 2002, he was elected for the first time to the Fukuoka Prefecture Assembly in 2003, where he served three terms totaling 10 years. He won his first House of Representatives election in 2012 and is currently in his third term.