Daily Israel Report

Ishihara: Crank Call or Wake Up Call

The outgoing Tokyo governor has called for Japan to go nuclear.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 3/9/2011, 9:22 PM / Last Update: 3/9/2011, 9:51 PM

The Independent published an interview by David McNeil with the 78 year old Shintaro Ishihara, governor of the Tokyo prefecture, which is Japan’s second-most powerful political office. Ishihara, who has been governor since 1999. has announced he will not seek reelection, but is going out with a bang by calling for Japan to go nuclear - something Japan could do within a year, he says.

Nuclear weapons were a reality "All our enemies: China, North Korea and Russia—all close neighbours—have nuclear weapons. Is there another country in the world in a similar situation?"

"People talk about the cost and other things, but the fact is that diplomatic bargaining power means nuclear weapons. All the members of the (United Nations) Security Council have them."

Ishihara has a reputation as a right-wing curmudgeon but his words could gain traction in the face of the growth of China's defense budget and the maritime clash last year over the Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan, but claimed by China. China's arrogance, Ishihara claims, is attributable to Japan's lack of nuclear weapons as well as Russian actions regarding the Kuril Islands. Public opinion surveys in Japan note growing hostility towards China.

"It is time for Japan to practice power politics rather than rely on a naïve policy exemplified by former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, who predicated his policy towards Beijing on the philosophy of yuai, or ‘fraternity."

"Of course all countries prefer to be friends with other countries," Ishihara said. "But Hatoyama was an idiot. He didn’t understand power politics.  He’s just a sentimentalist. There’s no point in even discussing him. It’s a sign of Japan’s weakness that he was elected."

Those who would dismiss Ishihara as a crank have ample grounds: In the 1960s and 1970s  he was a member of the Seirankai  or "Clear Storm Society," because he faulted post-war Japan's abandonment of traditional values and claimed that only a storm would clear up the fetid atmosphere where economics and personal wealth were paramount.

In the 1990s Ishihara became an exponent of the anti-Western "Asian values" school that espoused Asian authoritarianism over liberalism. Despite his general animus towards China, he approved when China rebuked a former British Prime Minister who criticized human rights abuses in China. The Chinese had reminded their guest that when British imperialism was dominant, signboards stating "No dogs or Chinese allowed" could be seen in Shanghai. In 1992, he coauthored a book with then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, entitled 'No' To Ieru Ajia [The Asia That Can Say 'No') advocating greater assertiveness in dealing with the United States.

Ishihara has called French a spurious language because of its counting method and called women beyond their reproductive years useless. The list goes on. Yet he had contacts with members of the Japanese establishment and before abandoning national for local politics he served in the Japanese parliament for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

A drive to renounce Japan's post war pacifist tradition has slowly gathered momentum. The trend is partially attributable to growing Japanese insecurity as the country is faced with threats from China and North Korea. It also may derive from growing uncertainty about American reliability. Just as France's Charles de Gaulle pushed for an independent French nuclear deterrent because he doubted an American response to a possible Soviet attack on Western Europe, once American cities had become vulnerable to Soviet missiles, it may now be Japan's turn to question the American nuclear umbrella. This will become a more pressing question as China achieves naval parity with the United States in the Pacific.