Armitage: Rebuilding Japanese economy is most important task facing Abe administration

July 27, 2013

By TAKESHI YAMAWAKI/ American General Bureau Chief of The Asahi Shimbun

WASHINGTON—Although the United States would welcome a greater Japanese role in security, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is advised to refrain from any “historical revisionism,” former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said.

In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s victory in the July 21 Upper House election, Armitage said Abe should put the majority of his efforts on economic revitalization.

As for Abe’s plans to reinterpret the Constitution to lift the ban on Japan’s exercise of the right to collective self-defense, Armitage says that decision is up to the Japanese alone.

But he would welcome moves by Abe to ease the restrictions to further strengthen Japan’s alliance with the United States.

He emphasized, however, that Japan should make it clear that there will be no historical revisionism and no reversal of the “verdict of World War II.”

On Japan’s territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands, Armitage said Abe has to continue to address this issue with patience, wisdom and calmness.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Question: First of all, what is your impression of the results of the Upper House election?

Armitage: It came out as I expected, particularly after the recent Tokyo municipal elections, where the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) and (New) Komeito did so well. So it’s no surprise. It seems that the people of Japan have opted for stability. And, as Mr. Abe said in his Washington speech, “I’m back and Japan is back.”

Q: How will the result of the election affect U.S.-Japan relations?

A: Well, in the first instance, I think there will be a great deal of confidence in the United States that we’ll be dealing with one prime minister for an extended period of time, and I think this is an important consideration, given the fact that during the time of the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan), we had so many, three in three years.

Second of all, I think that Mr. Abe is quite well-versed in security issues, the U.S.-Japan alliance, and that we can expect to have a very knowledgeable prime minister about security items, and I think that’s good.

Q: I understand you are a long-time friend of Prime Minister Abe, and I’m curious about the advice you gave when you met with him on June 25. What did you say to him?

A: Well, I’m not going to tell you what advice I had for Mr. Abe. Anything that I said to him would be kept between the two of us. But, as a general matter, I’m honored to be called a friend of Mr. Abe. And even during the time--the six years--that he was not prime minister, or between his first and second prime minister stints, I was able to see him once or twice a year. And we’ve had many talks about the world situation and about U.S.-Japan relations.

Q: Even after such a major victory for the Abe administration, Mr. Abe will need to set priorities in tackling his agenda. The “third arrow” of Abenomics, that is, bold structural reform, including negotiating Japan’s participation in the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), and constitutional change are both major issues that will require a lot of political capital. What issues do you hope the Abe administration will focus on?

A: I hope the Abe administration puts the majority of their effort into the revitalization of Japan. The most important idea is how to get Japan strong again.

In answer to a question that I asked him, “Does Japan want to be a second-tier nation or will you get to be a first-tier nation?” Mr. Abe said, “We are not and never will be a second-tier nation.”

So, he’s got to put the majority of his effort into the economic area.

The first two “arrows” were done relatively easy. The third arrow is not complete. And we’ve got to hope that he is successful in the economic reform and the restructuring. That’s where the majority of his effort should be.

Q: Regarding constitutional change, some people have expressed concern that a move by the Abe administration to revise Article 9 of the Constitution could raise tensions or lead to instability in East Asia. What is your view on this issue?

A: Well, my view is, first of all, this is a decision for Japanese, obviously. It’s not an American decision.

Second, I have said, and Dr. (Joseph) Nye has written with me, that Article 9 prohibition on collective self-defense is an impediment to alliance cooperation. So, to the extent Mr. Abe can loosen up that we can have even greater cooperation.

Whether this is accomplished by a change of Constitution, or by a change of Cabinet Legal Office interpretation, is Japanese business.

But yes, I would welcome it. But I will note that to change the Constitution takes a lot of effort and a lot of energy, and I just wonder if it might not be easier to have a reinterpretation by the Cabinet Legal Office.

Q: So you aren’t worried about possible instability or tensions in East Asia that might result from changing the Constitution or changing the interpretation?

A: I worry about the tensions that exist right now in Asia, particularly those surrounding the Senkakus. I worry that there could be a miscalculation.

If Japan decides to free herself from Article 9 prohibitions, I will welcome this, as I’ve said. But it’s important, I think, that at the same time, that Japan makes it very clear that Japan does accept the Potsdam Declaration, the Cairo Declaration, is not trying to reverse the verdict of World War II, and that Japan is forward-thinking, forward-looking. These are the important matters.

If those are all done together, that is, there’s no historical revisionism, there’s a change to the Article 9 prohibition, and Japan makes it clear that Japan’s looking forward, not backward, then it will be fine.

Q: What do you think the Abe administration should do to address the Senkaku Islands issue?

A: Well, I think that Mr. Abe has to continue to address this issue with patience, with wisdom, and I think with a long view. I’m afraid that we may be in this situation for some extended period of time. I can’t predict how long. And during that time, you’ve got to be resolute but also be wise and calm.

Q: It is no secret Mr. Abe would really like to visit Yasukuni Shrine during his term. But doing so could undermine Japan’s interest because there will be strong opposition from China or South Korea, which could weaken Japan’s position in international society. What do you think about this issue?

A: Well, clearly, this is a decision that Mr. Abe is going to have to make himself, and I note that Mr. (Yasuhiro) Nakasone and Mr. (Junichiro) Koizumi, two other conservative prime ministers, also went.

On a personal or on a religious basis, to worship one’s ancestors is every person’s right. But, given history, if you do it as a political matter, it puts a little different coloration on it.

But it seems to me that if one were to visit Yasukuni Shrine, of course you think about the millions and millions of Japanese servicemen who died in World War II. But one also should have time to think about the millions and millions of others who died because of the horror of World War II.

So it’s not beyond the possibility of man to be able to think about everyone’s suffering, not just Japanese soldiers’ suffering.

I’m not Mr. Abe’s “spiritual adviser.” I’m not his political adviser. And, if I had criticisms, I would give it to him privately, not publicly.

Q: What was your response after Mr. Abe said in the Diet, “As you know, the definition of what constitutes ‘aggression’ has yet to be established in academia or in the international community. Things that happened between nations will look differently, depending on which side you view them from”?

A: Well, I wish that Mr. Abe had not made that comment. I think it was an offhand comment to the Diet. But the only ones who were pleased with that answer was China. So I think that it was an offhand comment, and if he was asked that question again, I think he would probably have a different answer.

Q: Do you have any comment on the “comfort women” issues that arose from Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s statements?

A: The comfort women issue is a fact. How many people were comfort women? I don’t know. And I don’t think history can tell us. But it did happen, and it was wrong.

Past governments of Japan have been able to “own up to” that, and it seems to me Chief Cabinet Secretary (Yoshihide) Suga has basically said the Kono statement is applicable.

I thought that when Mayor Hashimoto and his other colleague in his party made comments about comfort women and Korean citizens of Japan, that they were very ill-advised and, indeed, they were stupid. And I will note that, after making those comments, which were very unpopular in Japan as well, that party, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) lost ground.

Q: Turning to the topic of China. When Mr. Abe visited the United States, he met President Barack Obama over lunch and one more hour of discussion. But when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited, he got eight hours of meetings at the retreat in California. Some Japanese are concerned that if the United States and China become more economically interdependent, the United States may be less willing to support Japan in Japan’s territorial dispute with China. What do you think?

A: I think that some Japanese who hold that view should have more confidence, both in their country and in the United States. We are allies, because it’s in the U.S. interest. And Japanese governments have felt it’s in their interest.

Those interests aren’t going to change. We’re also allies because we’re democracies. China is not. That’s not going to change in the foreseeable future. So, I think people ought to have a little more confidence in U.S.-Japan relations.

Right now, in the United States, we’re getting a mixed message from China. China needs economic reform, and we get a forward-looking, somewhat liberal, discussion about economics. But ideologically, there seems to be a retrenchment by Xi Jinping and his colleagues. So it’s hard to know which is the correct message, so Japan’s getting the same mixed message from China.

Q: I read your Op-Ed piece where you were critical of the Obama administration on the rebalance.

A: Yes. What I have said is that, to be complete, rebalancing does reflect our greater interest in Asia, but the method in which the Obama administration rebalanced, I think, was hasty and it was inarticulate, and it raised many questions. One does not travel to the Middle East these days without having Middle Easterners say: “You're rebalancing to Asia. Does that mean you’re leaving the Middle East?”

Or, our European friends say the same thing: “Are you leaving Europe? Are you turning your back on us?”

As I said, it was done in haste, and it was very heavily security-oriented, rather than being oriented, also, in politics, economics, education and culture. So I thought that the Obama administration went to rebalancing in an unbalanced way, too heavy military and not enough on the other elements.

Q: As you are aware, coming out of the Security and Economic Dialogue, the United States and China have agreed to begin work on a comprehensive, bilateral investment treaty, using a so-called “negative list approach.” Should Japan be worried that the United States and China may have a better bilateral investment agreement than the United States and Japan?

A: You know, Japan has every opportunity to invest in the United States. First of all, the Bilateral Investment Treaty is something that the United States, in my view, wants more than China wants.

We’ve tried to negotiate this in the past and failed. So let’s not be so hasty. Let’s wait and see what happens.

The basis of the Japan-U.S. economic relationship can be increased. Mr. Abe is trying to attract foreign direct investment to Japan, and the structural reform will help that.

We would love foreign direct investment from Japan here. Maybe in refineries or things that assist you in the development of your energy needs. These are decisions that I think, in principle, Mr. Abe would like and, in principle, the United States likes. But we have to have Japanese business “get off their wallets” and start spending money, investing here in the United States.

Q: How worried are you regarding the Japan-South Korea relationship, which is also very bad at the moment because of the historical and territorial issues?

A: Well, yes, I agree with your analysis, and the ties are quite frayed. But there are some, small “bright lights.” For instance, at Shangri-La, the defense ministers of Korea and Japan met with (Chuck) Hagel. And it was a short meeting, but that’s OK.

Recently, in Brunei, at the ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum), the foreign ministers met, all three foreign ministers.

The vice minister, or deputy minister, from South Korea met with (Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka) Saiki recently in Tokyo. So there is something going on. This is why comments by some, such as Mayor Hashimoto, so hurt, which seems to be happening.

I know that the defense ministries, both in Japan and Korea, would like to cooperate more together, particularly now that Japan has had to fly aircraft against North Korea, which wasn’t something that we had to do in the past.

So there are a lot of reasons why we can get past this issue, but it’s got to be done slowly, carefully and, most of all, we have to avoid “bringing gasoline to a fire.” And unknowledgeable comments, like Mayor Hashimoto’s, are “bringing gasoline to a fire” and are not welcome.

Richard Armitage served as U.S. deputy secretary of state from 2001 to 2005. From 1992 to 1993, Armitage, with the personal rank of ambassador, directed U.S. assistance to the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. From 1989 to 1992, he filled key diplomatic positions as presidential special negotiator for the Philippines Military Bases Agreement and special mediator for water in the Middle East. He is currently president of Armitage International.

By TAKESHI YAMAWAKI/ American General Bureau Chief of The Asahi Shimbun
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Richard Armitage (Photo by Yuko Lanham)

Richard Armitage (Photo by Yuko Lanham)

  • Richard Armitage (Photo by Yuko Lanham)
  • Richard Armitage (Photo by Yuko Lanham)

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