Shintaro Ishihara is a politician, author and governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government since 1999. He is well known for his critical stance on Japan’s dependence under the US-Japan security alliance. In 1989, he co-authored the book The Japan That Can Say No with then-Sony chairman Akio Morita. He is also critical of the Chinese government, and is known for his controversial support of Japanese nationalism, historical revisionism, and frequent visits of Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead. Generally described as one of Japan’s most ‘far right’ politicians, he is often labelled in the Chinese media as ‘racist’, ‘nationalist’, ‘militarist’ and ‘anti-China.’
Earlier this week, the liberal Southern People Weekly publishes an interview with Shintaro Ishihara, which goes beyond the standardized labelling in the Chinese state media. Entitled ‘The Shintaro Ishihara that you do not know,’ the interview is also published online in the Southern Media Group and Tencent, but is now being deleted. Nevertheless, it could still be found on individual blogs. Below is a translation of excerpts from the interview.
‘I love Chinese culture, but not the Chinese Communist Party’
SPW: Many people view you as anti-China. Some Chinese media even describe you as the ‘number one anti-China person.’ Is it correct?
Ishihara: I am of course anti-communist. I love Chinese culture, but not Chinese communism. I believe that as China’s economy and society become more developed and advanced, more people will hold a different view on communism.
SPW: So you are anti-communist but not anti-China.
Ishihara: Correct. I am not opposed to this country. But as long as it is governed by the Communist Party, it is a threat to Japan.
SPW: You have predicted that China would crash back in 1995 and 2002. Looking back, have you over-simplified the China question?
Ishihara: My prediction is indeed off the mark. My prediction is mostly based on economics. I have discussed in-depth with a British economist on why the Chinese economy would collapse. What we saw were an unstable financial market, pessimistic conditions of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and the fact that financial capitals could not be returned to China. But looking back, a lot of government officials have become CEOs of SOEs, and they have accomplished reforms and privatisations rapidly. As a result, our predictions were wrong.
SPW: Is this mistake due to your prejudice on China?
Ishihara: It is not a problem of prejudice. It is because we use standard economic theory to predict China. It is because China is not a capitalist economy but a one-party state. Many policies are beyond our imagination. Of course, we can also say that China is a success. We are surprised by but also alert to this success.
Anti-American vs. Anti-Chinese
SPW: You criticize America severely in The Japan That Can Say No 20 years ago. The media says that you are both anti-American and anti-Chinese. What’s the difference between them? Is nationalism an effective way to divert attention away from domestic problems?
Ishihara: It’s not anti-American, it’s hating America; it’s not anti-Chinese, it’s hating China. What’s common between the US and China is that they both apply pressure on other countries to achieve their goals. It’s this authoritarianism that I dislike. Japan is still under US rule. The US alleged that it would protect Japan under its nuclear umbrella. However, Japan’s neighbors, namely China, North Korea and Russia, all possess nuclear weapons, but not Japan. How can the US protect Japan? If Japan loses US support, it would lose voice in the world. Maybe I’m a bit radical, but I think that Japan should possess its own nuclear deterrence so as to establish its own voice in the world.
The Senkaku (Diaoyu in Chinese) issue is becoming a sensitive issue in China-US-Japan relations. It is an insult to Japan that China has summoned Japan’s ambassador to China five times in a row. Japan also has its own history of ultra-nationalism. It was during the Meiji era when Japan achieved victory in the Russo-Japanese War. The result is that Japan embarked on a path towards total war. Of course, today’s China is different from yesterday’s Japan. China’s economy is developing rapidly. At the same time, Chinese youths are very nationalistic. It is a difficult problem for China: this sentiment needs to be mobilized, but properly controlled, so that it will not cause any dangers.
Admirer of Deng Xiaoping
SPW: Many Chinese think that you are popular in Tokyo because of your tough stance towards China. Have they misunderstood you?
Ishihara: Perhaps. I don’t like Chinese communism, but I like Chinese culture. I especially admire two Chinese personalities: one is Deng Xiaoping; the other is Ximen Qin in The Plum in the Golden Vase (laugh).
SPW: How do you view Japan’s ‘lost two decades’? If you were the Prime Minister, what three things would you focus on?
Ishihara: I will first imitate the Chinese government, and freeze the parliament for three years. I will also implement military-style economic reforms. The tax system would be the focus, especially consumer tax. Consumer tax for luxuries should be raised heavily, but not for basic spendings. For example, there can be consumer tax on rice dumplings in convenience shops, but not on raw rice grain. In recent years, Japanese have stronger desire for money, and are against paying taxes. But if the consumer tax issue cannot be resolved properly, the Japanese economy cannot improved.
SPW: You appear as a reformer in Japan. No wonder some academics assert that many reformers admire power, with a taste of Fascist.
Ishihara: Many things in academia cannot be believed! Both reforms and politics need power. There are many limits in reforms and implementation of policies, but reasonable effectiveness cannot be neglected. Take Deng Xiaoping. Although he is a communist, he is the first person in China to take efficiency seriously. I think he is incredible. I highly admire Deng Xiaoping, especially his bold decisions in key moments.