Koizumi Has No Cause to Wait

by 岡崎久彦 on 2005年9月20日

First, allow me to recall my personal experiences with regard to the Liberal Democratic Party’s landslide victory in the general election held in late 1969, which bears a close resemblance to the Sept. 11 election. In the 1969 ballot, the LDP, headed by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, won 288 seats in the Lower House, while the Japan Socialist Party suffered a stunning setback.

That election followed a year of escalating leftist movements against the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, including violent disputes involving university students. The anti-establishment forces, which had succeeded in toppling Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi from power in 1960 when the treaty was updated, were calling for a 1970 “revolution” to scrap the treaty. The LDP’s landslide in 1969 put an end to that antitreaty campaign.

Though a young section chief of the Foreign Ministry at the time, I helped Prime Minister Sato’s staff, as a sort of ghostwriter. Following the LDP victory, I said to a Sato aide, “Now that the party has won big, the prime minister should tackle the work left over from the Kishi Cabinet, particularly the work of revising the Constitution.”

The response was ambiguous. “I don’t know of any politician who has gambled on the big success he has already achieved,” the aide said. “The best way is to leave an honorable record at the end of his term.” A bureaucrat of lesser status, I made no further comment.

The next year, 1970, was the year of the Osaka Expo and a time of apparent political tranquility. In reality, though, the comfort and ease was temporary. The Sato Cabinet would fall in disgrace, far from “leaving an honorable record,” as the Nixon Shock (Kissinger’s secret visit to China and the end of the dollar’s convertibility to gold in 1971) set off a series of tectonic events here and abroad.

Nobuhiko Ushiba, who was vice foreign minister during the antitreaty campaign, in later years often expressed deep regret that the Sato Cabinet had “wasted the whole year of 1970.”

The LDP scored another landslide in the 1986 general election, winning 300 seats. Parts of the mass media and others, in an apparent attempt to undermine the triumphant prime minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone, offered him a piece of “advice”: In effect, if he exited honorably at this stage, he would be able to retain his political influence.

During my brief return to Japan from my stint as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, I told Nakasone about my experience after the 1969 elections. He responded positively and clearly: “I will not repeat the kind of mistake that Mr. Ushiba regretted.”

Subsequently, Nakasone made a string of bold decisions presumably not because of my suggestions but because he was already determined to take drastic steps. Specifically, he decided to lift the ceiling on defense spending (which had been 1 percent of gross national product), opened the way for Japanese participation in U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s space defense program, split the national railway system into private companies, and introduced a sales tax bill. The proposed levy materialized in the form of a consumption tax under the next Takeshita Cabinet.

There is a clear difference in the degree to which Sato and Nakasone preserved their influence after stepping down as prime minister. The secret of politics, it seems, is to keep moving forward. For that, temporary comfort and ease, or self-complacency, must be avoided. By now, readers probably understand what I am trying to say.

Let me say one more thing: The LDP triumph offers the nation a golden opportunity to push reforms ? an opportunity that will receive a boost from the Japanophile administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

A solid relationship of trust exists between Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (an asset Koizumi has built in the interest of Japan), and there is a strong pro-Japanese trend in the U.S. Congress and media.

One of the remaining problems for postwar Japan is to complete a process leading to constitutional revisions. Particularly urgent is the question of correcting the long-standing interpretation of the right of collective self-defense. Once a new interpretation is established, the tasks of rewriting U.S.-Japan defense guidelines must be tackled. Preferably all this should be completed during the remaining three years of the Bush administration.

Although this could be done even during a U.S. Democratic administration, the advent of one like Clinton’s, in which all Asia hands were China experts and few officials were considered friendly toward Japan, would likely encourage the Chinese as well as Japan’s leftist forces to obstruct the drafting of new defense guidelines by influencing the U.S. administration.

Yet another challenge for Japan is to raise the consumption tax rate. Tax increases are always unpopular. That’s why the Takeshita Cabinet collapsed. Still, during a visit to Thailand, when I was the ambassador to that country, Takeshita said to me in a moment of reflection: “The consumption tax will go down in history as a positive legacy of my administration.” Had the tax not been introduced, the nation’s public finances would have been in far more worse shape.

Koizumi has said repeatedly that he will “smash” the LDP if necessary. If he still means it, he should demonstrate more of his bold leadership to carry out the needed reforms for the sake of Japan and the Japanese people.