Member of the House of Councillors Seiichi Eto started his political career 27 years ago as a city council member before becoming involved in national politics. He has served as special advisor to the prime minister since the founding of the second Shinzo Abe administration. Eto has had a consistently conservative ideology from his student years until his current position in the House of Councillors, and devotes great efforts to Japan’s national interests. Toshio Motoya spoke with Eto about Japan’s strategies in this world of intensifying information warfare.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. You have recently attended the Wine Tasting and Discussion About Japan event and Shoheijuku school. The more I get to know you, the more I think you are a wonderful politician. You still maintain the beliefs you have held since your student years. I was quite impressed by your talk at the Shoheijuku, in which you clearly stated China’s three diplomatic objectives as implanting a sense of atonement in Japan, making Japan apologize, and moreover ensuring that Japanese people are unable to think for themselves. I felt that you understand the true nature of things.
(E) Thank you for having me.
(M) The American ambassador to Japan expressed her “disappointment” about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine in December 2013. You declared, “No, we are disappointed.” What did you mean by that?
(E) Yasukuni Shrine honors the soldiers and civilian workers in military employ who gave their lives according to the command of the national government, so it is only natural that the prime minister goes to worship there. At Yasukuni he prays for peace, expresses gratitude to the people who gave their lives, and asks them to watch over Japan. China criticizes these visits because Class-A war criminals are also enshrined there. This is a domestic Japanese affair, not an issue in which China should be meddling, yet Japan has had a weak position. Abe was not able to visit Yasukuni Shrine during his first stint as prime minister. After becoming prime minister a second time, from December 2012 until the following year he seriously considered when he should go to the shrine. In light of his domestic and international travel schedule, his only chance during his three-year term was from the end of 2013 to the beginning of 2014. To that end, we met with important American figures and asked for their understanding regarding the shrine visit. Several were worried about how China would react, but after learning of the prime minister’s strong will they replied it was fine as long as it was done prudently. We requested that the U.S. either assent to or remain silent on this issue, which they acknowledged. The American ambassador used the word “disappointment” – although perhaps she didn’t mean it very seriously – and my statement included my feeling of disappointment that things didn’t go as we had talked about.
(M) You were disappointed with the U.S. for ruining the groundwork that had been laid. Barack Obama, a Democrat, was president at that time. Looking back at history, Republican presidents have been more favorable to Japan. I quickly predicted that Republican Donald J. Trump would win, and thought a victory for Democrat Hillary Clinton would be worse for Japan. We are truly at a historic turning point, and I think Japan is finally starting to break free from the postwar regime, as Abe frequently talked about during his first term.
(E) I agree. That is why the current American government must have a good understanding of the Abe administration’s intentions. Yasukuni Shrine is the Japanese equivalent of the Arlington National Cemetery. The Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery is not for all of the soldiers who fell in battle, but is a facility to fully honor the unidentified soldiers whose remains couldn’t be delivered to their bereaved family members. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited and laid flowers at the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery during their 2013 trip to Japan, but they didn’t go to Yasukuni Shrine. They don’t understand the significance of these two facilities. I hope the Trump government will learn about this and visit Yasukuni as well.
(M) When President George W. Bush came to Japan in 2002, he suggested to then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that they visit Yasukuni Shrine together. The Koizumi administration and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) declined out of consideration for China. I think this was a major miscalculation, since the Chinese and South Korean attitudes would have changed had Bush and Koizumi worshipped at Yasukuni together.
(E) The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) also stressed the relationship with China in making that judgment. In the second Abe administration, we are collecting information from many different angles and presenting it to Abe to help him make good decisions. I think he would be happy to accept an invitation from Trump to visit Yasukuni.
(M) China and South Korea are leveraging American authority to attack Japan, and I think that Japan must have a proper, comprehensive view of World War II. This January an online video was posted about my book that denies the Nanking Massacre, which caused a huge uproar in China. The Chinese government criticized me but I did not remove a single copy from our guest rooms. Conservatives stood behind my stance, sending me tens of thousands of e-mails applauding what I had done. And thanks to the many people who are staying at APA Hotel in support, we keep setting new sales records since the scandal broke.
(E) That’s amazing.
(M) I held a press conference on my new publications on June 2, where I was asked about my book in light of the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games and 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I replied that we had concluded a contract before the scandal for the entire APA Hotel & Resort Sapporo to be rented out by the Sapporo Asian Winter Games. From the start, this contract required that all informational materials be taken out of the rooms, and we complied by removing all books during the games. However, I have no intention of removing any books during the Tokyo Olympics. This exchange was spread around the world via a Reuters article two hours after the press conference. It was posted on Yahoo! News and drew roughly 3,800 comments, 95% of which stated, “What’s the problem with leaving the books in the rooms? Good luck, APA Hotel!”
(E) That’s great.
(M) The Reuters reporter’s question was based on a mistaken understanding. We removed the books during the Asian Winter Games according to our prior contract, but the Chinese Xinhua News Agency published false news saying this was done as a response to protests from China and South Korea. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper then cited the Xinhua article, but I believe The Asahi Shimbun should have contacted APA Hotel to confirm the veracity of this. As always, the media manipulates its readers to influence the public opinion as it wills. I can sort of understand why Trump calls the traditional media “fake news.” Germany is trying to establish a law to regulate fake news on social media, and I think Japan might also need some kind of institution to check and regulate fake news spread by the media and social media users.
(E) That’s a difficult issue. We’d have to ensure impartiality for any institution that was in charge of checking the news. Perhaps one method would be creating a structure for making such judgments in a public forum. In addition to the question of punishment, I think we would need to think of measures for amending the damage caused by lies. The Asashi Shimbun retracted and apologized for its reporting on the comfort women issue based on Seiji Yoshida’s testimony. Still, if Asahi truly thinks it did wrong, I feel it should concretely indicate how it will atone for its mistaken reporting.
(M) The company should have a unified stance of making up for the damage caused. The biggest anti-Japanese force in the world is the Japanese people who are against Japan. They support the anti-Japanese media. No matter how China and South Korea tried to attack Japan, it wouldn’t be a problem if the Japanese people were united, yet the anti-Japanese media worsens this situation. The anti-Japanese faction, as well as the anti-Japanese media, were originally created by thorough brainwashing to implant a masochistic point of view. This was conducted by the United States during its occupation of Japan to avoid future criticism for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The U.S. must know from contemporary surveys and information that the Nanking Massacre and comfort women stories are fictitious. However, it does not take Japan’s side on historical issues because it feels guilty about the atomic bombs and therefore believes it must portray Japan as the worse country. Today, I think Japan must break the curse of the American atomic bomb guilt by recognizing the positive aspects of the attacks – namely, that they prevented World War III, a fight with the Soviet Union over the communization of the world.
(E) I think you are right. First of all, the Western countries made a bad choice during World War II. On the European front, England and France joined hands with the Soviet Union against Germany and Italy. This strengthened the Soviet Union and led to the Cold War. The U.S. attacked Japan with the atomic bombs and ended the war without the Soviet Union to prevent a similar thing from occurring in Asia. I doubt the Westerners would have dropped the atomic bombs on Germany even if they had been completed.
(M) The U.S. started feeling scared after Japan broke the mold of the white man’s rule of the world with the First Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War. The U.S. wanted to make Japan submit ever since Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived in Japan with his Black Ships. After World War II, the signing ceremony for the Instrument of Surrender was held on the battleship USS Missouri, where the American flag was displayed from the USS Susquehanna, Perry’s ship. I think this was proof that the long-held American wish had finally been realized. The U.S. finally dropped the atomic bombs on Japan – a country that challenged the white nations – and forced it to submit based on a far-reaching plan.
(E) The Japanese side also lacked understanding of the U.S. The U.S. didn’t yet have its Pacific Fleet after the Russo-Japanese War, and I think it certainly viewed Japan as a threat. That is why the U.S. proposed joint management of the South Manchuria Railway via E. H. Harriman, trying to build a strong, collaborative Japanese-American relationship by opposing the threat from the north. Prime Minister Taro Katsura approved this joint management, but it was overturned by Minister for Foreign Affairs Jutaro Komura, which damaged the Japanese-American relationship. Japan should have been more informed about the American intentions.
(M) That was also an issue with the media. Japan received Taiwan and other territories after the First Sino-Japanese War, as well as massive amounts of indemnities, but it gained few spoils after the Russo-Japanese War. The newspapers commented critically on this and inflamed the people, which led to the Hibiya Incendiary Incident and other happenings. Considering this, it was clear that the newspapers and citizens would protest strongly against sharing the South Manchuria Railway rights with the U.S., and I think Komura was afraid of such protests. Japan ended up making enemies of the U.S. and the Jewish capitalists, which led to War Plan Orange against Japan and then the Pacific War.
(E) Moreover, Japan should have had a broader outlook. Japan and England had formed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. To England, the Russo-Japanese War was an ideal way to focus the armed forces of Russia, a major country, to the east.
(M) Yes, I think it was very like England – a country with great experience – to utilize this alliance to divert some of the pressure it was under to Japan. Adolf Hitler was moving on Moscow during World War II. The Soviet Union knew via Richard Sorge that Japan would not move north, so it moved its army in Siberia, which was equipped for the winter, west to defeat Hitler. If Japan had drawn the Soviet Union father east, Germany probably could have captured Moscow. This is a true historical incident that shows the importance of information warfare.
(E) It does.
(M) Japan has been constantly defeated in information warfare. The U.S. deciphered most Japanese diplomatic and navy codes during World War II. Sensing the attack, the U.S. moved its aircraft carriers and new battleships out of Pearl Harbor. Japan is still not sufficiently prepared in the intelligence realm, and it seems we are losing out to North Korea in cyber warfare as well. I have long suggested that Japan establish a “Ministry of Information” with a budget of 300 billion yen and a staff of 3,000 to single-handedly deal with tasks like cyber warfare, information collection and analysis, and the refutation of mistaken news reports. Like other countries, we may also have to recruit talented personnel from a young age to be given special training.
(E) As you say, we must strengthen our information strategies. It is definitely true that there are many anti-Japanese citizens in Japan, a country that was defeated in World War II. A Japanese person also started the comfort women issue. Instigated by Chinese and South Korean groups, three billion yen was spent on an American survey from 2000 to 2007 researching the abuse of women, which clearly showed that women were not forcibly transported or taken as sex slaves. The MOFA has put in place a structure for making statements based on these facts during the 4.5 years of the second Abe administration, which is exceedingly unprecedented considering what happened in the past.
(M) People said the 2015 Japanese-South Korean agreement was irreversible. Japan provided money to the fund, yet it looks like the new South Korean government might break its promises and make this agreement null and void. Even outside of Seoul, comfort women statues are being put up in Busan and across the world.
(E) This irreversible agreement was based on meticulous, complete preparations by the MOFA, including historical research. The Moon Jae-in government cannot neglect it. Movements to erect comfort woman statues in the U.S. and Australia are also being carefully extinguished, one by one.
(M) I think Japan should spend more on promotion. China and other countries devote larger budgets to propaganda spreading their views, which the United Nations (UN) and other international organizations accept without reservation. Japan still makes the second-largest monetary contributions to the UN after the U.S., but there are few Japanese UN staff members. We should send more people to the UN so they can exercise a respectable influence. Today, some anti-Japanese citizens of Japan have clout in the UN.
(E) The government and MOFA have finally come to understand these circumstances.
(M) I have long advocated that the LDP president’s maximum term of office be extended to three terms (nine years), and now it is possible for Abe to govern for three terms totaling nine years. Right now Abe is the longest-serving G7 leader after German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has gained the position of an experienced international politician and his influence is growing. I think it is truly time for Japan to make efforts to break free from the postwar regime, which is one reason that Japan should recognize the absolute necessity of the atomic bombs to prevent war over Soviet communization of the globe. We should also embark on reforming the constitution and abolishing the Press Code, which should have been done when Japan gained independence with the Treaty of San Francisco. In particular, if the constitution is not amended under Abe we won’t be able to do so over the next 100 years. I agree with Abe’s May 3 plan to reform the constitution by 2020, including leaving Article 9’s first and second clause as-is while adding a third clause legitimizing the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). Still, even if the JSDF are legitimized, they have no meaning with the current standard that limits them to a police-like role of only doing pre-approved tasks. If we are to legitimize the JSDF, I think it should be as a force to maintain military strength and with the right of belligerency to defend the country – an army in line with international law that can do everything but what is banned on a list of prohibited acts. That would allow for court-martials just like regular armies, and also clarify the legal position of JSDF activities. For instance, today if a JSDF personnel kills a person during peacekeeping operation (PKO) duties, it is possible that he or she will be accused of murder in Japan. In contrast, if the constitution does not legitimize the use of military strength and right of belligerency for self-defense, I fear that the vague interpretations of today will become fixed and Japan will move even farther away from becoming a decent country.
(E) As special advisor to the prime minister, it is somewhat difficult for me to comment on the issue of constitutional reform.
(M) In addition to the information and cyber warfare measures we discussed, I think Japan should also have offensive ability to deter attacks for the sake of security. After all, shields aren’t enough – one must also have spears. Even North Korea, which lacks economic strength, possesses nuclear weapons and a cyber force. Japan is the world’s third-largest economic power, and it should devote more strength to national security and contribute to peace and stability in East Asia. The Abe administration is capable of this, and I expect great things of you, Mr. Eto.
(E) I understand. However, there are many things that keenly remind me that Japan is a defeated country. Like I said before, the Western countries joining hands with the Soviet Union during World War II caused the Cold War and brought about a great deal of suffering. I think the impacts of the European Cold War spread to Asia when the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949 and when the Korean Peninsula was split in 1948, creating the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, I suspect Douglas MacArthur understood that Japan fought to protect itself against the threat from the north. That is when the U.S. changed its occupation policy in regards to security. In any case, Japan was in a constant state of chaos for many years after World War II. The Asahi Shimbun was the leader in inciting the Japanese people’s fighting spirit against the U.S. during the war. Afterwards it maintained its anti-American stance by printing an interview with Ichiro Hatoyama criticizing the atomic bombings, which earned it a two-day publishing ban from the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ). It abandoned its anti-American tone, but its true feelings smoldered and turned into its anti-Japanese tone of today. If nothing else, I hope it will abandon its anti-Japanese stance and report the news in a composed way.
(M) I feel the same way about its coverage of Moritomo Academy and the Kake Educational Institution.v
(E) All countries use the strategy of spreading propaganda for the sake of their national interests, including China, the U.S., and European countries. Japan has been overly deceived by these in the past. We must take a close look at each issue – including the comfort women, citizen requisition, Nanking Massacre, and Yasukuni Shrine – and refute any mistaken assertions with facts. A structure is in place for ascertaining the other country’s interests and making precise responses.
(M) Politicians cannot object carelessly, but public officials can. That is why we need an organization like the Ministry of Information I referred to. Besides information warfare, we should reform the constitution to make the JSDF into a military force for real deterrence. Japan should also take part in nuclear sharing like four North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries: Germany and Italy (other defeated countries), the Netherlands, and Belgium.
(E) Now that 70 years have passed since the end of the war, Japan must overcome the postwar system and become an independent nation. The current Abe administration is our chance to do so; in fact, I think it is our only opportunity. I feel that we must fulfill our responsibility.
(M) I think this can be achieved with you, an experienced politician, as special advisor to the prime minister. I expect great things of you and will do everything I can to help. Thank you for joining me today.
Born in Oita Prefecture in 1947. Graduated from Oita University’s Faculty of Economics in 1970. Was elected as the youngest member to the Oita City Council in 1973. After serving in the Oita Prefectural Assembly, he was elected to the House of Representatives for the first time in 1990, where he served four terms. He was elected to the House of Councillors in 2007 and is currently in his second term. He was appointed special advisor to the prime minister when the second Shinzo Abe administration was founded.