SHINOHARA Fumiya: I volunteered to distribute meals in areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in mid-April. I saw devastation in areas including Ishinomaki and Onagawa and understood that a tragedy beyond imagining had occurred.
FUKUDA Yasuo: The tsunami reached further inland than expected in those areas. The unexpected will happen. We must understand that.
I recalled the Iwate-Miyagi Nairiku Earthquake on June 14, 2008, when you were prime minister. The earthquake was designated as a major disaster, although the scale is different from that of the Great East Japan Earthquake. What did you think then?
I thought only about minimizing the number of casualties. I had been worried that casualties from natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons would be higher than the levels seen in other countries. When I became prime minister, I instructed the minister in charge of disasters to consider a no-natural-disaster-victims strategy. As a result, the Technical Emergency Control Force was established. The TEC-FORCE did a great job following the Iwate-Miyagi Nairiku Earthquake.
To place top priority on helping victims, you did not inspect the affected areas. I believe the prime minister does not need to go to affected areas immediately. A lot of preparations are required to enable a prime minister to conduct an onsite inspection tour. A large number of people will be involved from the office of the prime minister, local governments, and relevant ministries and agencies. You may end up disrupting the rescue operation.
There is a phrase “There is a god on the scene.” A prime minister conducting an onsite inspection tour is not a bad thing in itself. Reconstruction Design Council meetings should be held in affected areas. The problem is that the inspection tours of Prime Minister Naoto Kan are just seen as performances. Mr. Kan visited Ishinomaki two days before I went there. A person involved in the area said bluntly, “It was a hassle.” That person said that the prime minister’s visit took people away from what they were doing and that the prime minister would not satisfy their demands quickly.
With this large-scale disaster, everybody worked hard, I believe. It’s easy to say things in retrospect. The prime minister I am sure is performing his duties, always considering the best policy.
Leadership by politicians getting nowhere
There would certainly have been problems under a coalition government of the Liberal Democrats and the New Komeito, or under the Fukuda administration.
To handle the current nuclear accident, however, the prime minister would need to have experts in nuclear power and in the nuclear facilities take the best action, instead of visiting the site himself. All that a politician has to do is to make it clear that he will take responsibility for the results. If the prime minister had acted that way, the people on site should have taken the best action.
There was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2010. The action that needs to be taken is to slaughter the cattle suspected of infection. However, the prime minister, as a politician, should have decided quickly to take responsibility for paying compensation out of the national budget to the livestock farmers. They depended on the compensation for their lost earnings. However, I remember that the decision was slow and that slaughtering livestock was delayed.
Another thing that I am concerned about is there are too many task forces and committees, including the Reconstruction Design Council. One official told me that another official sitting next to him at a meeting asked him “What meeting is this?” (Laughs) I think the command structure in the prime minister’s office has problems.
The prime minister not only holds the top position in the world of politics; he is also the head of the government. As such, he is responsible for managing government organizations so that it runs well, from top to bottom. To that end, it is necessary to ensure that ministries and agencies cooperate with each other not only in emergencies, but also at ordinary times. However, I am afraid that the vertical structure has become so powerful recently that it often prevents cross-functional cooperation.
Is leadership by politicians getting nowhere?
I have a lot to say about that, but I would like to refrain from criticizing the current administration. (Laughs) In my experience, many ministries and agencies are involved in any project, however small it is. For example, when I was chief cabinet secretary, I created the post of border crisis management officer. It all started from the Kim Jongnam incident in 2001. The Ministry of Justice had received information from a foreign organization that Kim Jongnam would enter Japan. The Ministry of Justice is in charge of immigration control. The National Police Agency obtained the same information from a different route. Police waited for him outside the airport to let him enter the country and pursue him. However, because they did not exchange information with each other, the immigration office caught him inside the airport. At the airport, immigration, quarantine, and customs are under the control of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and the Ministry of Finance, respectively. The police and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism are also involved. The airport administrator, operating under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, does not have control of the entire airport. Each department at the airport is linked to the central ministry in a vertical administrative structure. I did not think that the organization would function properly and so created the post of border crisis management officer, who has authority under the direct control of the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary for Crisis Management of the Cabinet Secretariat for each airport and port.
Political leadership should coordinate and use bureaucracies thoughtfully. But that is not happening.
Another example is the landing of Chinese on the Senkaku Islands in March 2004. I instructed the administrative deputy chief cabinet secretary to consider the best action in consultation with the relevant ministries and agencies. He held director-general level talks and suggested to me the following morning that we should punish them for violating the Immigration Control Law, instead of for property destruction and other minor charges. That was the best answer in light of international considerations at that time.
What I want to say is that if the politician trusts his subordinates and allows them to do their best, he will get the best results. There are many competent bureaucrats, and the role of politicians is to bring out the best in them.
Discussions between government offices require the approval of ministers, senior vice-ministers, and parliamentary secretaries. That is not good, is it?
The abolition of meetings of administrative vice-ministers is a symbolic example of the government’s approach.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio deals with the media about the nuclear power plant issues every day. The chief cabinet secretary, a deputy director-general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, and Tokyo Electric Power each held press conferences separately. Is this the right way? Separate press conferences seem to be sparking concern, especially overseas. A policy of amalgamating the press conferences was at last announced recently, but that was too late.
The press conferences have certainly created a sense of distrust overseas. Once you have given an impression that they just can’t trust you, it is very difficult to eliminate.
You hold the record as the longest-serving chief cabinet secretary, and earned a reputation for being competent in that role. What is the role of the chief cabinet secretary?
Basically supporting the prime minister in the prime minister’s office and coordinating the work of ministries and agencies to execute the policy of the Cabinet. The chief cabinet secretary is called the pivot of the Cabinet, because of that coordinating function. Of course the chief cabinet secretary has to handle relations with the party and the affairs of the prime minister, such as arranging events, official affairs, and diplomacy. A system in which the chief cabinet secretary is swamped with duties as spokesman is not good. The media is partly to blame for this. If the media requests the chief cabinet secretary to hold two press conferences a day, he can’t spend time on coordination, his primary responsibility.
Political styles are too different to build a grand coalition.
The great earthquake requires stronger political leadership and an improved ability to deal with the situation. However, it is difficult to pass a bill given the twisted Diet. In the circumstances, a grand coalition is being touted. Something similar was discussed during your government. Why wasn’t a grand coalition formed?
The basic premise for a grand coalition was that Ozawa Ichiro was able to control the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Mr. Ozawa assumed that he could control the party. He was very proud of its substantial victory in the Upper House election. However, he was not able to control it.
He was too optimistic, wasn’t he? Didn’t the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have problems?
No, we had no problem. I obtained agreement from key figures in the party in advance. Mr. Ozawa didn’t seem to do that.
Why in the world did Mr. Ozawa pursue a grand coalition? Did he think participating in a coalition government was an important step to assuming the reins of government?
I feel that he was seriously concerned about a political standoff in the twisted Diet rather than trying to grab power. He was very concerned about Japanese politics in general. There were a stack of problems to address urgently, including counterterrorism in the Indian Ocean, social security problems, and a revision of the Political Funds Control Law. Both parties would have chosen experts to discuss those matters if a grand coalition had been built.
I’ve heard that Tanigaki Sadakazu, president of the LDP, consulted with you about a grand coalition. What are your views about building a grand coalition now?
If the DPJ truly wishes to change the current politics, that’s fine. However, if they think they will use a grand coalition to extend the life of the current administration, the building a coalition is going to be difficult. Moreover, the political styles of the LDP and the DPJ are entirely different. The LDP thinks that it should make the most of the bureaucracy, while the DPJ advocates leadership by politicians and doesn’t think it need to use the bureaucracy in the same way. If a grand coalition is formed, could Kan, as the head of the government, allow all the bureaucrats, his subordinates, to cooperate with the LDP? (Laughs) The parties don’t seem to have discussed budgetary handouts, including child allowances. Neither party knows what the other party is planning or wants to do. It is natural that Tanigaki should hesitate to make a decision.
Will the public accept the situation? What do you think of forming a coalition with the DPJ without Mr. Kan?
I’m not in a position to comment on that.
The LDP has to cooperate with the DPJ to address the unprecedented national crisis. If the LDP declines to form a grand coalition, how will it be able to cooperate as an opposition party?
The LDP is a party with common sense. I believe the leadership is giving appropriate consideration to how the party will cooperate.
The political situation was like a still image after the earthquake, but it is becoming video again. Whether a grand coalition is built or not, the situation will move towards a political realignment. If a grand coalition is formed, that will accelerate the move toward realignment. The two-party system consisting of the LDP and DPJ has already reached a limit. My opinion is that a political realignment is the only way for politics to restore its ability to address the issues.
I’m not prepared to speak about the political situation. If the LDP and DPJ form a grand coalition after they adjust their policies and confirm their direction, I will not complain. In that case, there will certainly be a snap election, and there might be revolutionary changes in the party endorsements of candidates for electoral districts. I believe that politicians will make decisions depending on the situation.
Politics doesn’t work without trust.
The strengths of the Japanese, including community bonds, mutual cooperation, and solidarity, seem to have attracted attention after the earthquake. There was no major looting in affected areas. This was much admired overseas.
There are things to do other than being glad that there were few thieves in the days of turmoil following the disaster. I rediscovered the strengths of the Japanese too. Meanwhile, we should not forget that we have received a lot of assistance in different forms. One Indonesian businessman invited jazz musician Watanabe Sadao to Jakarta and held a charity concert there. The former prime minister of Croatia told me that marching antigovernment demonstrators stopped and offered silent prayers in front of the Japanese embassy.
Japan created mistrust in association with disclosure about the nuclear accident. The important thing in international relations is trust. We must remember that politics doesn’t work without trust. I’ve heard that the government will reduce ODA to secure financial resources for reconstruction in the Tohoku region. I don’t think it is appropriate to cut ODA to countries and the international community, which sent us donations despite their own tight budgets. I’m afraid Japan will undermine what it has established.
How do you think Japan’s nuclear energy policy and energy policy will change after the nuclear accident?
Since nuclear power generation involves the issue of radiation, natural disasters beyond the scope of the assumption will not be accepted as an excuse. Once an accident happens, the company will incur losses that jeopardize its viability. Sufficient spending on safety must therefore be secured. Simple international comparisons can’t be used for calculating costs. There are nuclear power stations very close to Paris and in the center of farmland in France. That is allowed because there are few earthquakes in France. Japan is the most earthquake-prone country in the world. I learned recently that there have been about a thousand earthquakes with a magnitude of 6 or more in the world in the past ten years and that 20% of them occurred in Japan. We have to consider the costs and countermeasures all the more because of that fact. The risk never becomes zero, but we need to aim for that.
There are a number of choices. We can maintain nuclear power plants while reducing the risks. We can also focus on developing new energy resources.
I believe Japan has invested more money in the research and development of new energy resources than any other country. That is because Japan does not have a lot of resources, such as minerals and energy, and food, which is one of our national characteristics. In other words, Japan has overcome a lack of resources using human resources. It will be important to continue the effort.
China, India and countries in Southeast Asia are growing rapidly and are using a lot of resources. Naturally resource prices are rising. The time will come when we will not be able to procure the resources we need however much we may pay. Prices of resources will start to rise ten years before that day, and that will be the indicator. Population is a major factor. The world’s population will reach 7 billion this year and is expected to rise another 2 billion in 2050. Will we be able to generate enough energy for those people? The ingenuity of mankind is being tested.
Setting aside the nuclear accident, Japan excels at developing cutting-edge technologies for energy and resource savings and introducing them to the world. If Japan remains useful for the planet, it will continue to develop.
Since breaking with nuclear power generation is unrealistic, Japan needs to develop both nuclear power generation and new energy resources, doesn’t it? What will Japan need to do to rebuild after the earthquake?
When I saw Kesennuma, which was devastated by the tsunami and fire, I felt it was similar to the burnt-out ruins 66 years ago, after the war. Towns had been reduced to ashes by incendiary bombs. Only concrete buildings remained in place. We have recovered from there and have built a mature society. We have what we should have. The days when we wanted television sets and refrigerators are over. Before becoming prime minister, I embedded the concept of houses that last 200 years. Those houses are now called long-term, high-quality houses instead, because I guess people might consider 200 years to be too long. Anyway, rebuilding houses 27 years on average after they are built is a total waste of resources. Some people say that housing starts will decline, and building companies will get into trouble. However, there is still demand for close to one million houses per year, and I think building companies will be fine for some time to come. They can gradually transform themselves into building renovation companies.
You cannot survive unless you move away from the thinking of the high-growth period.
The days when large volumes, especially production volumes, meant everything are over. The change has to do with energy saving and resource saving, which I talked about earlier.
“Longing for a return of Fukuda? No way.”
Finally, last month’s issue of this magazine conducted a survey of working bureaucrats to see which prime minister is the most highly regarded and which is the least highly regarded among the prime ministers who held office in the past five years. Abe Shinzo and Aso Taro were highly regarded by 20 bureaucrats. Abe was not highly regarded by six, and Aso by two. You were highly regarded by 15 bureaucrats and were not highly regarded by zero. The Fukuda administration can be said to have been the most stable administration.
That came too late! (Laughs)
Considering preparations for an inland earthquake striking Tokyo, including the transfer of the capital, stability and a sense of security are important. I’ve heard many people say that you should become prime minister if a grand coalition is formed.
The media likes to make up stories like that. I categorically rule out the possibility.
I didn’t make that up! (Laughs) Some people are longing for the return of Prime Minister Fukuda. How do you respond to them?
They are overestimating me.
Translated from “Hajimete kataru dai-renritsu to sori no shikakuku,” Bungeishunju, June 2011, pp. 168-174. (Courtesy of Bungeishunju Ltd.)