Former Japanese leader says Abe does not speak for all

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Former Japanese leader says Abe does not speak for all


Yukio Hatoyama, Former Japanese prime minister

As Japan’s relations with its neighbors have grown tense over historical and territorial disputes, former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama shared his concerns about the rash actions of the current Shinzo Abe government during an international forum in Jeju. He also addressed the need for Japan to get along with its neighbors and correct its view of history in an exclusive interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, JTBC and Korea JoongAng Daily on Thursday during the Jeju Peace Forum, facilitated by senior JoongAng Ilbo columnist Kim Young-hie.

Hatoyama served as prime minister between September 2009 and June 2010, heading the Democratic Party of Japan.

After stepping down from politics near the end of last year, Hatoyama established the East Asian Community Institute in March. Through this think tank, he pursues the formation of an East Asian community under a vision of fraternity and cooperation that promotes security and economic prosperity.

He also stated that for Japan’s economy to recover, it first needs to cooperate with neighboring countries.

Japanese politicians, including Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, have recently been criticized for calling sex slaves of the Japanese military “necessary.” But Hatoyama said such words do not represent all of Japanese society.

“I do not think Abenomics will sail smoothly,” he said, regarding a package of economic measures fashioned by the current Japanese prime minister to pull the economy out of a decade-long deflationary period.

“When Prime Minister Abe realizes that better cooperation with China and Korea is important for Abenomics to do well, there’s a chance he may change his way of thinking,” Hatoyama explained.

Q. What is the status of the East Asian Community platform that you advocated while you were prime minister?

A. The importance of the East Asian Community has grown even more. And the need for an explanation of that importance is more urgent.

Isn’t it difficult without the help of the government, media and financial sector?

The government and the media try to take the United States into consideration and don’t completely explain this, so the people do not really know what it is.

What is North Korea’s role in this?

North Korea’s participation in such a community might be difficult immediately. For North Korea’s future participation, it has to be made to understand that in order to stabilize its economy, cooperation with neighboring countries - especially South Korea, China and Japan - is indispensable rather than developing nuclear weapons or missiles.

Is the United States wary of such a community?

Rather than personally being wary of it, they express - through editorials and exchanges with those close to Japan - the view that an East Asian Community excluding the U.S. will be problematic.

Even if it’s not the United States, there are many complicated territorial disputes heightening the tension in the region, so is there a place for the East Asian Community?

Because there are territorial disputes, it is more urgent. For example, look at Germany and France. Immediately after World War II, when their relations were frosty, they made a European Coal and Steel Community [in 1951] which progressed into today’s European Union. Where there are disputes, there needs to be a cooperative process.

Even so, with the current Shinzo Abe government, who would believe in such sincerity?

I think there should be great concern regarding some of the Abe administration’s words. And I am concerned that rather than finding a solution for the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, the situation has become more fixed.

If there is an overwhelming victory for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party as expected in the upper house election in July, there is concern that a high-spirited Abe will encourage further conflict with neighboring countries.

There are other expectations as well. After a victory in the upper house election, Abe’s cabinet and the lower and upper house may find stability as they gain confidence from the people’s consistent support, leading to a more flexible diplomatic posture. After the upper house elections, it is my hope that Prime Minister Abe shows more open-mindedness in that the U.S. is important but that it is important for Japan to get along with East Asia’s Korea and China.

Is Abe’s ultimate goal is to make Japan a “normal” state like scholar Yukichi Fukuzawa’s motto of national prosperity and military power?

It does seem to be true that Prime Minister Abe’s political goal is for constitutional reform to allow the construction of a national army that signifies a strong Japan. I worry a lot about this, but the public is also divided in regard to constitutional amendments.

His move to amend Article 96 to allow for easier constitutional amendments has been met with particular opposition on both sides of the reform issue.

Japan is known as a very polite country.

Gamsahapnida. [Thank you in Korean]

How can provocative politicians like Shinzo Abe, Toru Hashimoto (Mayor of Osaka) and Shintaro Ishihara (co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party with Hashimoto) rise to such high offices?

For the last two decades, Japanese citizens have suffered economic instability. Wages have decreased by 1 million yen [$9,980] during the period. When the national situation turns sour, politicians with tough rhetoric toward other nations gain popularity. I think Gov. Hashimoto has fallen into the trap. After becoming a favorite of the press, he seems to try to attract people’s attention through tough talk on foreign issues, which led to the current situation. But Abe’s or Hashimoto’s thoughts do not represent the Japanese with common sense.

Abe unexpectedly sent a special envoy to North Korea. Does he want to resolve the issue of Japanese abductees before normalizing Japan’s relations with North Korea?

He gained popularity because of the abductee issue. To him, it is an even more important issue than the North’s nuclear weapons and missiles. If the abductee issue is resolved, it could lead to the normalization of relations. But solving the abductee issue has not simple. After diplomatic relations has been somewhat normalized, it may finally be addressed.

By Sarah Kim []
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