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Japan: An Interview with Yasuhiro Nakasone

6 minute read

“We will make contributions to enhance the solidarity in the West” Since taking office last November, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone has displayed a forthright, outspoken style unusual for Japanese leaders. Abandoning the somewhat dispassionate manner of his predecessors, he has begun to usher his nation firmly into a full partnership with the West. He has increased military spending and expanded his country’s defense commitment in the western Pacific. At the same time, he has moved rapidly to open Japanese markets to more Western imports. Following his party’s good showing in the recent parliamentary elections, Nakasone met with Tokyo Bureau Chief Edwin Reingold in the spacious salon outside the Prime Minister’s office in downtown Tokyo. Excerpts from the interview:

On Japan’s relations with the West. Up to now the Japanese people tended to feel they were quite open. In reality, however, I think they were confined within a very narrow, self-centered domain. I decided to push forward so we can become a Japan open to the world. I have made all-out efforts to improve access to the Japanese market. We have reduced tariff rates, and despite resistance, we have improved import certification and safety standards. We have been able to make tremendous progress, and that progress will continue. Another major change is that we have moved forward to assume a political role that is commensurate with Japan’s economic potential. This means when we are faced with various international problems, we will make contributions to enhance the solidarity in the West.

On Japanese reaction to his more open policy. It has caused major repercussions. Perhaps over half of the major influential newspapers in Japan criticize my policies, and the other parties strongly denounce them. However, I have tried to explain my way of thinking to the people. I have made a hard-working effort to gain the people’s understanding, and I think the results were fully reflected in last month’s elections. Ultimately, I think the Japanese people do endorse the policy I have introduced.

On his diplomatic initiatives. I have visited the U.S., Korea and other Asian countries. On these occasions, I enunciated Japan’s policies more clearly than had been done in the past. At the Williamsburg economic summit, I stated Japan’s strong resolve to contribute actively to the cause of the West. These efforts, I believe, have been instrumental in dispelling doubts about Japan that existed abroad. Compared with previous Japanese policy, it seems to me that we have entered a new age, especially with respect to the political role Japan should play in the world.

On Japan-U.S. relations. Various disputes do exist. However, the Japanese and U.S. governments have reaffirmed their resolve to find solutions to these problems. That in itself, I believe, represents a major achievement. In the free world, problems always exist. It would be rather strange to see no conflicts. What matters is the fact that we can frankly discuss solutions. I have shown my willingness to find solutions, and I am aware of the same sincere resolve on the American side.

Problems between Japan and the U.S. extend to economic and defense fields, and these are indeed difficult issues. They have been compounded by fiscal and budgetary constraints in Japan. I think it is like traveling through Antarctic waters, where we have to avoid icebergs without damaging the ship. Both nations do function under a democratic party system, so neither of us can afford to take such a great risk that we endanger our administrations. Both the Congress and the Japanese Diet, while maintaining compassion for each other’s position, should try to measure the depth of the water and to use radar to detect the existence of icebergs so we will not drown or sink. If we navigate carefully, and if we show strong resolve, no problem is impossible to solve.

On Japan’s defense position. A defense plan is not simply related to the purchase of equipment—warships, large cannons and airplanes. Japan’s desire to defend itself and its strategic interests are more important. Since my administration came into power, I have clearly enunciated Japan’s approach, Japan’s determination and Japan’s will. For example, I agreed to share military technology with the U.S. At the same time, during deliberations in the Diet, I clearly indicated what we could and could not do within the framework of the Japanese constitution. All of this is much more important than the mere purchase of military equipment.

On the Soviets. We have no intention of acting as a bridge, so to speak, between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., nor do we have plans to serve as an honest broker between them. Based on the foundation of our membership in the West, and with Japan-U.S. relations as the cornerstone, we intend to maintain unity in the free world.

On relations with the Third World. If we can be an honest broker between north and south, then I think it is advisable for us to do so.

Japan was once a developing country itself and has become an industrial nation, so it would make sense for Japan to be compassionate toward developing countries. I hope the world will pay particular attention to the energy and the potential of the East Asian countries. Seventy percent of our economic aid goes to Asia. With its economic possibilities and social stability, the East Asian region is now the most promising area in the world. I feel very honored to be a member of the region.

On his country. Unless one visits Japan, one may never be able to appreciate the country. It is a bit like tasting sugar. One says it is sweet, but unless one tastes it, no matter how many times it is explained, one can never know how sweet it is. So Japan may be a bit like sugar or salt: unless one tries to taste it, one may never be able to understand Japan. In the past, we have been lacking in our efforts to publicize Japan culturally. We have done quite well in exporting products. But from now on, we must make greater efforts in exporting cultural information. I hope our foreign friends will pay attention.

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