Big Talk

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Will do Even Greater Things on the Global Stage

Member of the House of Councillors Masamune Wada was working as a news presenter at the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) Sendai Broadcasting Station when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. Angry that the government was not sufficiently helping people in the disaster-struck areas, he decided to get involved in national politics. Toshio Motoya spoke with Wada – who leverages his abundant media experience as a broadcaster to convey his conservative beliefs to many people via the Internet – about issues with today’s mass media and his passionate feelings about the Shinzo Abe administration.

Newscaster commentary gives mistaken impressions to viewers

(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. We became acquainted when I cited a part of your column from Monthly WiLL magazine in my essay in the November 2018 issue of Apple Town. You are known in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for being well-versed in policy, and I learned that we share extremely similar ways of thinking. That’s why I invited you to my Wine Tasting and Discussion about Japan dinner afterwards, followed by a lecture at the Shoheijuku academy and this interview.

(W) Thank you for inviting me.

(M) You originally worked at the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK).

(W) Yes, I was a news presenter. Some people just stay in the studio and read the news, but I wanted to be an active journalist, so I went outside to personally interview people and write my own news items. I’ve even put together a one-hour program on my own.

(M) How many years did you work at NHK?

(W) Sixteen.

(M) That’s quite a long time.

(W) It is. NHK has people with a wide range of ideologies, from the right to the left. But if you watch News Watch 9, you will see that the left wing is gaining power. This is horrible. NHK’s fundamental job is to report facts as they are, but the newscasters’ half-baked commentary makes the truth seem more dramatic and gives viewers a mistaken understanding.

(M) You mean the commentary after the news. NHK insists that it is neutral and impartial, but the newscasters’ beliefs leave strong impressions.

(W) Newscasters don’t often comment on the three major American networks. Rather, they question reporters or commentators to provide additional information. Another feature of the American news is that casters have overall responsibility and the right to edit their programs. As for comments, newscasters who talk a lot are regarded as less skilled. For instance, they might be seen as trying to supplement a poorly made video report. One famous incident illustrates just how weighty these comments are. Walter Cronkite, a renowned CBS newscaster, was reporting from Vietnam on the war in 1968. At the end, he shared his personal opinion that the United States should open negotiations on ending the war with Vietnam. This comment from Cronkite – who almost never shared his own views on air – impacted the public greatly, and the U.S. Armed Forces withdrew from Vietnam. That’s how newscasters should be. In Japan, this commentary started with newscaster Hiroshi Kume and was then taken up by Tetsuya Chikushi, but this isn’t true journalism.

(M) People are constantly pointing out the mass media’s biases. I think the media helped bring about the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration in Japan.

(W) Me, too. We must take care against some broadcast media outlets that still try to influence audience members to think a certain way, which violates the Broadcast Act. Smart citizens who feel the media is biased search online or watch YouTube. Many citizens used to assume that all TV programs or newspapers were accurate, but I’m glad to see many don’t think that way today.

(M) Perhaps that is one reason why all 12 House of Councillors candidates recommended by the Shoheijuku won the recent election, including yourself. The year before last, 47 of the 48 Shoheijuku-recommended House of Representatives candidates won as well. I think this is a splendid achievement for the academy.

(W) That’s wonderful.

(M) I praise you highly for fully speaking your beliefs from your first term and guiding the LDP in a good direction. I think that’s one reason you were re-elected.

(W) Thank you.

(M) Because of your past career, you are also vice-chairperson of the LDP Public Relations Headquarters.

(W) Yes, for instance, I wrote all the scripts and directed the party’s commercials for the recent lower house election. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared in the commercials.

(M) You are multitalented!

We should re-start safe nuclear plants and build state-of-the-art ones

(M) What inspired you to run for the National Diet?

(W) I was born in Tokyo, but my father named me “Masamune” after Date Masamune, the lord of Sendai. That’s partially why I made multiple requests during my time at NHK to be transferred to the Sendai Broadcasting Station. After I was finally sent there, the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred. The DPJ was in power at that time, and the government was powerless in the disaster-struck areas. Several of my friends died, and the people who were saved were struggling a great deal. This emergency made me decide to run so I could use my abilities in some way.

(M) The DPJ dealt poorly with the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident after the earthquake. Many people were anxious about the hydrogen explosions that blew the roofs off Units 1, 3, and 4. This could have been prevented. The roofs exploded because hydrogen built up inside. But hydrogen is lighter than air, so I think it could have been vented before the explosion limit if, for instance, a Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) helicopter shot at the building to make holes in the roof. Perhaps they were concerned about spreading radioactivity, but in the end more radiation was released by the explosions. People were also forcibly evacuated from areas where they would be exposed to 20 millisieverts of annual radiation, a standard that is much too low. Just two people died in the tsunami, and two others died from radiation and other causes, at the nuclear plant. Roughly 2,000 people have passed away from disaster-related causes in Fukushima Prefecture alone. There are many tragic examples of needlessly evacuating elderly people and hospital patients in critical condition, who ended up dying during transport. I think this was a political misjudgment by the DPJ government.

(W) Approximately 20,000 people lost their lives in the earthquake and tsunami, and about 3,800 have died in the disaster-struck regions from related reasons. This shows the government did not do enough to save citizen lives, which should be its first priority. It should have immediately acted with the worst-case scenario in mind during the Fukushima Daiichi accident. A meltdown could have been avoided by quickly pouring seawater into the nuclear reactors. Some say they hesitated to do this out of fear the power plant would become unusable, but their main priority should have been protecting the nation and people from the worst circumstances imaginable. The DPJ government failed seriously by not making a prompt decision to take this step. I think Abe could have immediately come up with a worst-case hypothesis upon which to base his judgments, which is why I fully support our current administration.

(M) Moreover, the media and DPJ government shut down all nuclear power plants afterwards, which was based on no laws at all. Japan has been forced to depend on thermal power generation with surplus petroleum costs of four trillion yen per year. Numerous rumors were spread based on information from embassies in Japan right after the nuclear accident, and many people fled from Tokyo to Nagoya and Osaka. I think this might have been a plot by external powers to shut down Japan’s nuclear plants. This panic could have been avoided if the government declared the area was safe according to measured values. I believe the LDP government should learn from these mistakes by the DPJ administration.

(W) Yes. I think we should also re-start nuclear plants that are confirmed to be safe.

(M) I agree. We must step up the pace of these re-starts.

(W) Absolutely. Furthermore, we must think seriously about decommissioning nuclear plants that are past their service life and building new ones to maintain Japan’s atomic energy technologies.

(M) I’ve heard a small nuclear reactor has been developed that is sufficiently safe.

(W) Yes. We should think about nuclear power plants as part of the wider perspective of energy safety policy. Technological innovation is underway on future energy sources, and as part of this I feel we must think flexibly about how to use nuclear power.

(M) I agree.

(W) We should also assume the worst when we take future measures against tsunamis. Fifteen-meter embankments are being built all over the Sanriku coasts, but they wouldn’t stand a chance against an 18-meter tsunami. Rather than embankments, I think we should expand the evacuation routes and built roads to higher ground as far away as possible from oceans or rivers, allowing people to evacuate in 10 to 15 minutes after an earthquake.

(M) It’s certainly true that embankments aren’t sufficient protection against tsunamis. They also block the ocean scenery and lower the value of living there. Besides, evacuation routes mean nothing if a tsunami arrives too quickly. I have been advocating for building “disaster-prevention condominiums” since right after the earthquake. We should construct six-story condominiums, with roofs 18 to 20 meters above ground, at right angles along coasts so they would not be destroyed by ebbing tsunamis. They should stand at fixed intervals and have emergency staircases outside so anyone could safely evacuate to the roof after seeing a tsunami approaching. These condominiums would also cost less than embankments and could be rented out or sold at a profit.

(W) I see. That’s a good idea.

(M) Many people say that, but I’ve never heard about one actually being built. Embankment building generates enormous demand that is welcomed by general contractors and civil engineering companies, but the cost effectiveness is much too poor.

(W) You have a good sense of costs as a businessman, and are well informed about how the economy works. I feel we need more bureaucrats and politicians working in disaster planning with this type of awareness and knowledge.

Abe is cooperating with ruling and opposition parties to revise the constitution next year

(M) Before the last House of Councillors election, I was saying that a constitutional reform motion should be submitted before the election – or that the lower house should be dissolved to hold a double election – due to the high possibility that upper house members in favor of constitutional reform will no longer hold two thirds of the seats. However, Abe decided to hold a House of Councillors election only. This is because he felt that, even if motions were submitted in both houses, public opinion polls showed that a majority could not be secured in a national referendum. Therefore, an election was held only for House of Councillors members whose terms were expiring. Even with less than two thirds of the seats, I think Abe wants to gain a majority in the referendum by getting the opposition parties on board and having the ruling party submit a motion with the opposition parties. For that reason, I think he will limit the first amendment to adding a clear statement about the JSDF, without touching paragraph two of Article 9. Two thirds must be in favor to submit a motion, and after the election the LDP, Komeito, and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) members fall below this requirement. No matter what, they need cooperation from opposition parties such as the Democratic Party For the People (DPFP), and I think Abe is working to reform the constitution in a coordinated way. This would make it possible to get more votes in the national referendum that is the next step. The referendum has to take place within six months of the motion, and a House of Representatives election could be held at the same time.

(W) I think Abe saw a high probability that two thirds could be gained in the House of Representatives election, which is why he decided against a double election. At the beginning, the newspaper and news agency surveys predicted that a fair number of seats would be won. But voter turnout actually fell, and these announcements had a negative impact that led to losing seats. As you say, this means the forces in favor of constitutional reform must cooperate with members of the opposition parties. The DPFP does not take a negative view on constitutional change, and contains some members of the former Democratic Socialist Party lineage, which said we should discuss constitutional reform. The next issue is whether the Diet members possess the mettle to do this. In my article you cited, I pointed out that a constitutional reform motion could be submitted in the National Diet by a Commission on the Constitution, with the approval of 100 members of the House of Representatives, or with the approval of 50 House of Councillors members. A motion would open up discussions in the plenary session and Commission on the Constitution, so the opposition parties could no longer avoid the topic.

(M) Still, one amendment will not be enough. Besides adding a clear statement about the JSDF – something no one will oppose – we must remove the second paragraph of Article 9 to make the JSDF into a military like other countries, with offensive power and tribunals. That’s why revision should be done in two phases, but two amendments will be impossible by the end of Abe’s term in 2021. LDP Policy Research Council Chairperson Fumio Kishida is the most likely candidate for Abe’s successor. However, incumbent Kensei Mizote (whom Kishida supported) was defeated in the recent upper house election in Hiroshima by Anri Kawai, who was backed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and others. This was a major blow to Kishida. If this loss makes him less enthusiastic about becoming the LDP president, I think more people will be asking Abe to serve four terms. If Abe is prime minister until 2024, his term will end at the same time as that of American President Donald Trump, who is sure to win re-election.

(W) I think so.

(M) Re-election means everything to American presidents. Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to avoid making the same mistakes as his predecessor Herbert Hoover, who lost a second election. Roosevelt worked hard to draw the U.S. into the war in Europe – although he made a campaign promise to stay out of the war – to create extensive demand and break free from the Great Depression. England and France lacked sufficient military power to stand against Nazi Germany, yet they guaranteed Poland’s independence, which was backed by promised support from Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s plan was to use the Tripartite Pact; he provoked Japan to anger, then used the Pacific War to enter the war in Europe and win re-election. American presidents will go that far, and I can understand a lot of what Trump does. It also makes sense that Trump has expressed dissatisfaction with the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. If Japan is attacked the U.S. has to retaliate even if it means starting World War III, but if the U.S. is attacked Trump said Japan can only watch “on a Sony television.” We should make this into an equal treaty of mutual benefit. While Trump and Abe are in power, we must amend the constitution twice, transform the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty into a reciprocal agreement, and give Japan the power to protect itself.

European countries are also yearning for Abe’s term of office to be extended

(W) I totally agree that Japan should gain independent self-defense capabilities. To that end, I think Abe serving four terms would be the best for Japan and the people. The Japanese-American relationship is on equal footing for the first time in the postwar period thanks to Abe and Trump, and Abe is the leader most trusted by Trump. Recently, European diplomats are also yearning for Abe to have a fourth term of office, since Abe is the only leader who can actually talk with Trump. People have also told me they hope, since I seem close to Abe, that I will help achieve this by providing advice and encouraging momentum inside the party. Abe is an increasingly important figure in the world today.

(M) I’ve heard Trump calls Abe for his counsel whenever something happens. The American policy against China came to a major turning point in 2018, which I surmise was backed by Abe’s advice. At first Trump had a marked stance of reconciliation towards Chinese President Xi Jinping, and he even brought the pro-Chinese, anti-Japanese former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on board as an advisor. But Trump is keeping his distance from Kissinger today. Abe has done great things already, and I think he will accomplish even more for the world going forward.

(W) Abe has held summits with most of the United Nations (UN) Member States, about 700 meetings in total. This is the largest number of summit meetings and countries in the history of Japan’s constitutional government, an accomplishment that should go down in textbooks. Abe has earned trust from leaders across the world, and now has access to correct information that he shares with Trump in some cases. Just like you, Abe will accomplish even greater things. I will support the government wholeheartedly and work continually to revise the constitution and make Japan into a peaceful nation that inspires pride among our citizens.

(M) Please work hard to that end! At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”

(W) It’s said the voter turnout was especially low among young people in the recent upper house election. Still, some young people are starting to take steps to change things because they believe our current circumstances are unacceptable. Now that I’m in my mid-40s, I realize this is the age when I can assist these actions by young people. Japan is a wonderful country with a long history, yet we second-generation baby boomers were taught by the Japan Teachers’ Union that Japan did terrible things. I believed this at first before I realized it was wrong, and today I am a conservative politician. I feel like many young people today are getting a keen sense that this biased education is erroneous. I want to work with them to protect, love, and develop our country. I hope to build a Japan worthy of pride on the global stage while fully safeguarding our Imperial Household that has lasted for 2,679 years.

(M) They say more young people are becoming conservative, and as you mentioned the Internet is one reason for this. The mass media outlets are losing their ability to control the public opinion; fewer people are watching TV; and there are more chances to find good, balanced information online. Young people are extremely familiar with the Internet, and many are doubting textbooks and traditional news and learning the truth. This has led to an increasingly strong conservative ideology and a stable LDP government. I believe the LDP would gain even more security if there was a farther-right party that functioned like an icebreaking ship. I feel this role was fulfilled by The Party for Future Generations and The Party for Japanese Kokoro, which you were formerly affiliated with. I hope you will use the Internet skillfully with young people and guide the LDP in a great direction. Abe should also serve a fourth term to enhance the Japanese-American relationship and stand against the expanding China. Protests continue in Hong Kong, and I am very concerned about what will happen in the future. Let’s work hard so Japan doesn’t end up as a Chinese autonomous region someday. Thank you for joining me today.

(W) Thank you.

Date of dialogue: August 7, 2019


Masamune Wada

Born in Tokyo in 1974. Graduated from the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Law, Keio University in 1997, then started working as a news presenter at the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK). Wada was elected to the House of Councillors in 2013 for the first time in the Miyagi Prefecture precinct. He also won the 2019 election, and is currently in his second term. He is the vice-chairperson of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Public Relations Headquarters and deputy director of the Youth Division.