Although he belongs to the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), House of Representatives member Jin Matsubara has been active as a conservative controversialist. He was appointed to the cabinet for the first time during the Noda administration, serving as chairman of the National Public Safety Commission and as minister for the abduction issue, and even after his party relinquished control of the government, he has played a pivotal role in the DPJ as the chair of the Diet Affairs Committee. In addition, in this year’s “True Interpretation of Modern History” essay contest, he won the Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Award). We spoke with Mr. Matsubara about the direction of talks with the North Koreans on the abduction issue, the future of conservatism, and other topics.
Motoya Thank you for joining me today for Big Talk. And congratulations on winning the Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Award) in this year’s “6th True Interpretation of Modern History” essay contest. The title of your essay was, “We are Japan!?Freeing Ourselves from the ‘Three Defeats’ and Becoming a Strong State.” As always, the screening committee read and graded each essay carefully without knowing the applicants’ titles or names, and your essay received very high praise from all of the committee members. When the applicants’ names were finally revealed, the entire committee was shocked! (Laughs) Knowing that you are a conservative Diet member within the DPJ, I have long thought, “Mr. Matsubara’s way of thinking is similar to mine,” and I was hoping to have a chance to someday speak with you.
Matsubara Thank you.
Motoya When you were serving in the Noda cabinet, in addition to serving as the chair of the National Public Safety Commission, you served as minister for the abduction issue and held other posts at the same time. Noda was the best of the DPJ prime ministers. I got a sense from him that he was thinking about Japan. Hatoyama and Kan were terrible. Noda decided to dissolve the Lower House of the Diet as a trade-off for raising the consumption tax. Looking at the approval ratings at the time, the DPJ’s support was substantially lower than the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), so there was little hope of winning even in a general election. Given that situation, I assume that he made his decision based on his determination that if he passed the rise in the consumption tax that had been so avidly called for at the tripartite negotiations with the LDP and Komeito, that it was alright if the DPJ lost power. I think it was impressive that he placed Japan’s future ahead of the interests of a single party or faction and made a bold decision.
Matsubara I agree. And I am deeply obliged to former Prime Minister Noda for having given me an opportunity to devote all my energy to the nation and the people from the point of view of a bureaucrat. I am a conservative Diet member, so that is something that was very important to me. During my term I was not able to resolve the abduction issue, but as minister, I was able to implement what I thought was best based on my own judgment. I hope those efforts will produce at least some modest results down the line.
Motoya The Japanese government has officially acknowledged 17 abduction victims, but it is believed that there may be many others as well who have been abducted by the North Koreans. Of course, to carry off citizens from a sovereign nation and bring them to your country, holding the person against their will and refusing to return them is clearly a crime on the part of the state. However, in order to resolve the problem, we need to force the North Korean side to think about the abductions.
Matsubara What do you mean by that?
Motoya So naturally it was part of the North Korean military that carried it out. According to one theory, while pretending to carry out construction on a branch line, they placed explosives disguised as sandbags along the main line, and since they didn’t know which train car Kim Jong-il would be in, they supposedly arranged it so the entire long train would be destroyed. Thousands of people are believed to have died in the explosion, but thousands more probably died in the purge of the army after that incident. As a result, the relationship between China and North Korea immediately became tense, and each side increased its military personnel along the border.
Matsubara And then came the nuclear test? Yes, in order to ensure that he would not face the risk of a second assassination attempt, Kim Jong-il sped up the nuclear development program and carried out a test in 2006, although the explosion was not completely successful. With the subsequent two tests, North Korea’s nuclear weapons have made substantial progress, and they have probably succeeded in miniaturizing the warheads now as well. In order to secure the continued existence of the country, Kim Jong-il would use any means necessary. The abductions of Japanese citizens and other foreigners was a means of winning the global propaganda war. To start with, the Korean War is still in a state of “truce.” From the North Koreans’ point of view, the abductions were not one peaceful country stealing away citizens from another peaceful country, but rather a country at war stealing away people from an enemy country. They brainwashed them and used their language skills and other knowledge to fight that propaganda war. We should not forget this perspective.
Motoya In order to resolve the abduction issue, the greatest pressure on North Korea is not something material like economic sanctions, such as the refusal of passage for the Mangyongbong [a ferry that carries passengers and cargo between Wonsan in North Korea and Niigata], but rather it is the wrath of the Japanese people. In April of this year, the family association handed Prime Minister Abe a petition for the resolution of the abduction issue that had more than 10 million signatures. That is the biggest threat to the North Koreans. The Japanese people have to continue to come together as one and strongly demand that the abductions be resolved.
Matsubara What is important is the will of the people. I think you are correct. The North Koreans also abducted citizens from Lebanon, a country with a population of about 4 million people, but thanks to strong protests from the Lebanese government, the victims were returned. The scale of the country is irrelevant.
Motoya I agree.
Motoya So how do we resolve it? In fact, Japan is benefitting from North Korea’s role as a buffer zone. If the north becomes pro-China and they draw in South Korea, then they will become like a dagger pointed at Japan and will pose a major threat. We need to allow North Korea to endure and save face while making sure that all of Japan’s demands are accepted. My plan for resolving the issue is as follows. North Korea must quickly return all Japanese abductees who are still alive. If they do so, Japan will not question the process by which they were abducted and will not demand that North Korea be held accountable. We will establish diplomatic relations and will offer the same economic assistance?not postwar compensation?that we provided to South Korea. After the last World War, Japan left a great deal of infrastructure and facilities behind in Korea, so we essentially have no duty to provide compensation, but a certain amount of compensation was paid to South Korea in the form of economic assistance. During the time of the South Korean government of Park Chung-hee, they were able to use that to achieve the rapid economic growth known as the “miracle on the Han River.” North Korea is probably anticipating something similar. In addition to offering a “carrot” in the form of economic assistance and not questioning the past, we also need a “stick” in terms of using military force to rescue the abductees if they are not returned. First we need the “national will” to rescue them by any means necessary and then, based on that, we need to negotiate using that carrot and that stick. I think we should apply this three-point approach to resolve the abduction issue.
Matsubara Indeed. There is also the idea that North Korea is reluctant to release them because once the matter is resolved and they return the victims, they don’t want to be told, “You said they were dead, but they were actually alive, weren’t they!” That is why I came up with the “Three Matsubara Principles” as a strategy for carrying out realistic negotiations to get those abductees back, and I made clear to the North Koreans what Japan’s basic stance is. And in fact one of those principles was, “Even if someone that was said to be dead is actually alive, we will compliment praise North Korea for becoming a more open country and will not criticize them.
Motoya If you resolutely state that you will disregard the past, it should be effective. But in exchange, they must be told to give accurate reports. A military threat is also needed, so the key will be whether or not the United States will support this strategy. Will the anger of the Japanese people be able to stir up the United States?
Matsubara When I was minister for the abduction issue, to some extent we were facing that kind of environment. It was at the time when Kim Jong-il was succeeded by Kim Jong-un, and we thought that, unlike his father, he would show the international community a more open North Korea, so we sent a message in keeping with that from the Japan side. We even told him that if he opened up, we wouldn’t pursue any details. Former US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage stated for us, “The abductions are an ongoing form of terrorism,” and we tried various things, but unfortunately I could not produce any results during my term.
Motoya At the moment, it seems like Kim Jong-un is struggling to maintain his authority. It is said that to do so he is carrying out large-scale reforms and has purged about one-third to half of the top military brass. Almost all of the military officers who carried the coffin at his father’s funeral have been driven out of power. In China, when there was a dynastic change, tens of thousands of people with ties to the old ruling dynasty were killed to eradicate their bloodline. World history is a bloody affair.
Matsubara Japan is a peaceful nation, so we may not be sufficiently sensitive to that.
Motoya I have visited 78 countries around the world, and I have visited all of the famous memorials of mass killings?the Nazis’ Auschwitz, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, the Rwandan massacre, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima….. But only unlike all those other places, all of which had innumerable photos, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall was the only place that had no photographic evidence at all, just models and paintings. Even Zhu Xueqin of Shanghai University has said, “The full names of the deceased were engraved in the Pearl Harbor monument, but there are no names of the victims at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall.” Japan has continued to apologize for the Nanjing Massacre and the comfort women even though they are not true. The Sankei Shimbun scoop on the fact that the study on which the Kono Statement [the 1993 apology regarding the comfort women issue] was based was full of mistakes must have been leaked by someone in a central position in the government, whether it was a bureaucrat or a politician. Even though there was a family registry system on the Korean Peninsula, in the survey of comfort women that became an issue, the names and dates of birth were haphazard, so it has absolutely no value as a historical document. If that fact had come out immediately after the Kono Statement, the issue probably would not have expanded to this extent.
Matsubara Japanese people are probably too concerned about others.
Motoya That is true. The fact that the talk about the military forcibly taking people away was a fabrication is clear from the fact that the only testimony to wrong-doing came from Seiji Yoshida, who ultimately recanted his statements, and there is no other proof. Comfort women were wartime prostitutes. At the time, there was a system in Japan for licensed prostitution, and under specific conditions, prostitution was permitted. According to the recruitment ads, there is a record that the pay they were receiving was about ten times that of the soldiers. Of course, it was not just Koreans; many Japanese women were working as comfort women as well. This proof exists, but because that is not made public, we keep on being told these things. Also, in Chinese and Korean schools, they children are taught from a young age that Japan did bad things, so those Chinese and Koreans who received that kind of education have now completely transformed into anti-Japanese monsters and are saying things like “It’s war with Japan.” It’s regrettable that Japan didn’t assert the truth earlier.
Matsubara The fact that we have allowed other countries to create the “truth” is a major mistake by Japan. Basically, the Japanese side was never conscious that it needed to fight the propaganda war. We were much too naive. But as a result, the tremendous honor, the tremendous confidence, and the tremendous vitality of our country are being lost. If we fail to reflect on this, we cannot speak about the future of Japan.
Motoya Now, as in the past, there is a constant propaganda war being carried out in the world, but most Japanese people are not aware of it. For that reason, in the past, today, and in the future, we are losing that war. That may be due to the difference in consciousness between Japan, as a country that is surrounded by ocean and has rarely been invaded, and countries on the continent that share borders with other countries and may be attacked at any time. In addition, if the United States had repudiated the military comfort women, the Nanking massacre, or the Yasukuni Shrine issue, these issues would not have dragged on this long. The United States always leaves the seeds of conflict so that Japan does not form too close ties with its neighboring countries.
Matsubara Scholars often point out that in international politics, behind every fact that are all sorts of possibilities and all sorts of strategies, and we should listen closely to that.
Motoya At the start of this year, the Japan Restoration Party boasted a support rate of 14 percent, but now it’s a shadow of its former self. The Japan Restoration Party, which sought Japanese independence through the approval of constitutional revisions, was like an icebreaker that cleared the path for the LDP. The Obama administration, which feared constitutional revisions and Japan’s resultant “independence” from the United States, decided on the Restoration Party as the focus of a concentrated attack, and by having the entire world media criticize Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s comments on the comfort women, they rapidly decreased the support for the Restoration Party. In order for Japan to escape from the postwar regime, it needs a party that can play the role of an icebreaker ship that goes out ahead of the LDP to clear the sea-lanes. What I would ask you to do, Mr. Matsubara, is to take a central role in creating that kind of party. There are many politicians, whether in the DPJ, the Japan Restoration Party, or the Your Party who have excellent ideas. I believe that you are the only one who can bring all of those people together.
Matsubara I’m honored that you have such high expectations. (Laughs) I am a self-acknowledged conservative politician, but I think there are two kinds of conservatives. What has been called conservative since the time of Shigeru Yoshida is the faction that depends on the United States. But the real conservative does not rely on other countries. I am not saying we should get into a quarrel with the United States, but……
Motoya The cause was probably the Cold War.
Matsubara Certainly if you are asked to choose between the Soviet Union and the United States, you choose the United States.
Motoya But the Japanese people don’t understand that the situation has changed enormously since the end of the Cold War. Since the end of the Cold War, the enemy of the United States shifted from the Soviet Union to Japan and Germany. There are two reasons for that. First, when the United States, having invested blood, sweat, and money, finally won the Cold War, it had been overtaken economically by Japan and Germany, which had been profiting while others fought. On top of all that, Japan went so far as to buy Rockefeller Center. So the United States decided to strike Japan economically. Another reason was that the intelligence agencies that had been gathering data on the Soviet Union during the Cold War were looking at the economy as a new battlefield to justify their continued institutional existence. The Anglo-Saxon intelligence network ECHELON, which was created to win the Cold War, also began to be used for collecting economic intelligence, and that information was conveyed to private businesspeople in their own countries. During the 1997 currency crisis, American hedge funds made a killing by short selling currency and buying it back when it hit bottom.
Matsubara People like George Soros.
Motoya But of course behind them was the will of the state. After the Cold War, they adopted military intelligence strategies to fight an economic war. It was the former CIA employee Edward Snowden who exposed that plot, but after disclosing that information in Hong Kong, he escaped to Russia. The reason why is that the only place with enough military power to oppose the United States is Russia.
Matsubara Today, people point to the rise of China with its annual double-digit growth in the military budget, as if it was pursuing the United States and Russia of the past. For us, the increase in the military power of China, as a neighboring country, is a cause for some anxiety, but how do you analyze this, Mr. Motoya?
Motoya Currently Japan can still maintain control of the seas and control of the skies against China. Despite the army, China’s navy is weak and it can’t even control the Taiwan Straits. So there is no chance that Japan will suddenly be occupied by China. But it might happen someday. For that reason, Japan also has to prepare itself for the strategic information war, but the current situation is not good. In particular, I get the feeling that Japan’s mass media is often manipulated by other countries.
Matsubara I share that concern as well.
Motoya The biggest problems are NHK and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. In general, they both have the image as being fair and neutral, so many people trust them. But they have a subtle bias. Compared to that, the sins of the Asahi Shimbun are not as serious. At least when people read it, they know that it is biased. (Laugh)
Matsubara The key to the abduction issue as well is how to use the power of the media. If they stop stirring up the issue, it will fade away before you know it.
Motoya There is that as well. And why is Japan’s media so strange? That stems from the US Occupation policies. At the time, GHQ hired 4,000 Japanese censors and paid them a high salary using Japan’s budget; they of course checked the media but also unsealed letters and checked them as well. Any author who praised Japan was forced to rewrite it to show contempt instead. Those people who had been working as censors later went on to become bureaucrats, journalists, scholars, and other Japanese leaders, and as people who had benefitted from Japan’s loss, they led Japan in the wrong direction.
Matsubara I believe that if human beings’ emotions are shared with the nation, it creates a more substantial energy. The Japanese people today are definitely missing this concept of the nation, and that is clearly also a result of the GHQ brainwashing.
Motoya People are not taught the truth, so they do not have a concept of the nation and are not proud of Japan.
Matsubara A similar thing happened in England. The masochistic view of history that says the British Empire was built on the blood and sweat of its colonies and it is therefore a bad country has become pervasive. But during the Falklands War of 1982, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took a hard line and the atmosphere in the country suddenly shifted.
Motoya They even went so far as to requisition the Queen Elizabeth 2, a luxury liner that was a national symbol, for use in transporting troops.
Matsubara I think the abduction issue is Japan’s version of the Falklands War. The preamble of the Constitution includes the line “trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world,” but when the abductions came to light, it showed that we cannot “trust” and that there are “peoples of the world” who are not peace-loving. That moment was a turning point for postwar Japan, but Koizumi’s actions were like incomplete combustion. It sometimes strikes me that Koizumi lacks a concept of the nation and a sense of history.
Motoya I think so too.
Matsubara A nation that is aware of its national borders has a high degree of pride. Before the war, Japan had national borders on the continent, but after the war it lost those. If you are continental state, then the conflicts along the national borders increase your national awareness.
Motoya Recently the Senkaku Islands are playing that role. I think that woke the people up and created a connection with the Abe administration.
Matsubara Just as there are borders on land, in the oceans there is also the 200-mile exclusive economic zone, and China and Japan are clashing over the seafloor in the Japan Sea. This involves underground resources. It is not a national boundary, but in terms of the recognition, it is the same. If we highlight this issue and move forward with development, it will make Japan stronger in various ways.
Motoya The awareness may sprout that we have to protect our own country by ourselves. This is a basic precondition of a sovereign state. But just revising the Constitution will not make us an independent nation.
Matsubara More than the Constitution, I think we need to first revise the historical view of the Tokyo Trials. Even if we cannot change the verdict, we can change the opinion of the text. If we do not do something as bold as that, the consciousness of the Japanese people will not change.
Motoya Of course the United States will be an obstacle in changing the view of the Tokyo Trials. The LDP administration can only take a stance of walking one step behind the United States. In order for the Abe administration to avoid sinking like the Titanic, it definitely needs an icebreaker clearing the way for it. Mr. Matsubara, I certainly hope that you can achieve a truly conservative party that can become that icebreaker.
Matsubara Please count on it.
Motoya Finally, I always ask my guests to offer a word to our young readers.
Matsubara Just being a pro-American conservative is not conservatism. The true conservatism protects tradition, and that’s where Japan’s ancient Shintoism, customs, and culture come into it. When we return to that starting point, this Japan that is currently thought of only as America’s follower will for the first time be able to exert its leadership. I hope that young people will pursue this conservative ideology.
Motoya I agree. Thank you for joining me today.
Mr. Matsubara was born in 1956 in Tokyo. He graduated in 1981 from Waseda University’s School of Commerce and entered the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management. From 1989, he served two terms on the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, and in 2000 was elected for the first time to the House of Representatives. He has now been elected to five consecutive terms. In January 2012, in the first cabinet reshuffling by the Noda administration, he was appointed to the cabinet for the first time, serving as chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, minister of state for consumer affairs and food safety, and minister for the abduction issue. In September 2013, he was named chair of the DPJ’s Diet Affairs Committee.