The Ozawa interview in the FT

Ozawa Ichiro recently sat down for an interview with the FT’s David Pilling and Lionel Barber.

A transcript is available here.

There is nothing surprising in this interview. Mr. Ozawa opened by reminding the interviewers that he remains more interested in reform than in wielding power, saying, “If I happen to be the party head and if we do win the election then I shall have to be prime minister. As I said, actually becoming prime minister in itself does not hold so much attraction for me.” He expects an election will be held within the year and predicts that the LDP is on the brink of destruction and more divided than the DPJ. He also implicitly compared the LDP to the Chinese Communist Party: “The Chinese communist dictatorship will become incompatible with a capitalist market economy and you will have to change or you will not be able to carry on your administration. I am always saying that to the Chinese leadership. But I do understand how difficult it is. Once you enjoy your power, how difficult it is to give it up. The same is true in Japan.” This comparison is obvious, indeed so obvious as to be commonplace, but I wonder whether the LDP will rankle at the insinuation anyway.

Finally, with this post in mind, Mr. Ozawa said: “I do not know what Koizumi is thinking. But he is no fool. The mass media say he wants to become the top again, but I don’t think that is the case.”

What I find of interest in this interview is that even while Mr. Ozawa trotted out his familiar motto, drawn from Lampedeusa’s The Leopard — “We must change to remain the same” — he spoke repeatedly of drastic changes that have to be made that seem to go far beyond changes that would enable things to stay the same.

— “Even if DPJ becomes the ruling party, we should also change ourselves. It is incumbent on us to change, change what is unnecessary, strengthen what needs to be strengthened.”

— “What we need is real participation of the citizens in political matters, and the politicians have to represent the Japanese population as closely as possible. The Japanese political system needs to change as such.”

— “…In the economic and politics and social arena, everything in Japan has to be fundamentally changed. Otherwise, we will not be able to play the role that is expected of Japan in the global community.”

At some point, these changes will make it impossible for Japan to stay the same. Consider the second point above. Japan has never had a participatory democracy in the sense noted by Mr. Ozawa. If the political system were to change along those lines, with citizens playing a more active role in shaping government priorities and demanding greater transparency and accountability from government, it would be impossible to say that things remained the same. If “everything in Japan” is to be fundamentally changed, how can things be described as staying the same? It is difficult to square his motto with his other rhetorical points (although perhaps not his policy ideas). This may seem trifling, but Mr. Ozawa has been using this line for more than a decade; it’s worth asking what he means when he says it. What exactly should remain the same?

The philosophy behind this motto — conservative reformism? reformist conservatism? — may explain why Mr. Ozawa is not trusted by many in his own party, those young reformers who could be said to believe that “we must change so as not to remain the same.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Ozawa continues to give the impression that he is bereft of serious, realistic ideas about Japan’s foreign policy. Asked how Japan would “‘act on the world stage” were he to become prime minister, Mr. Ozawa answered, “Based on the assumption that we become mature enough to play a role in the global community, I am always calling for co-existence. I do believe that Japanese people have the potential and capability to disseminate this philosophy of co-existence to the world; co-existence with nature and with other countries and peoples based on Buddhist principles.” Compared to the grand vision of Japanese foreign policy presented by Mr. Fukuda last month, Mr. Ozawa’s response to the FT’s question is almost comically absurd. He could have given a short, taut answer about Japan’s playing an independent role in upholding peace and security in Asia, leading in finding solutions to global problems, forging a new, more equitable US-Japan alliance…anything other than calling for the dissemination of a philosophy of co-existence. His response on China is equally evasive: he talked about the importance of the Sino-Japanese relationship, but instead of indicating what he would do as prime minister, he talked about how the CCP is doomed and stated “I have always emphasised the importance of relations between our two countries, as a politician and as an individual I have worked very hard for the bilateral relationship. They understand that, so whatever I say they take it warmly.”

This pablum may be the result of a DPJ badly divided on foreign policy: Mr. Ozawa has to be as noncommittal as possible on foreign policy so to avoid angering some faction of the DPJ. Nevertheless, this rhetorical mush is unacceptable. At some point Mr. Ozawa and his party will have to come up with a coherent foreign policy. Someone will likely be angered in the process, angered enough to defect from the party, but better the party split up over this question than Mr. Ozawa continue to repeat this meaningless drivel.

One thought on “The Ozawa interview in the FT

  1. Nevertheless, this rhetorical mush is unacceptable. At some point Mr. Ozawa and his party will have to come up with a coherent foreign policy…better the party split up over this question than Mr. Ozawa continue to repeat this meaningless drivel.With all due respect, I think Tobias goes way overboard with this statement, for two reasons. First, and most importantly, domestic policy affects the daily lives of Japanese citizens far, far more than foreign policy. Japanese people face great difficulties in finding jobs that utilize their talents while allowing them to maintaining families; in locating safe, high-quality consumer goods at reasonable prices; in bearing the burden of caring for the elderly; in planning for retirement; etc. If the DPJ breaks up, these issues have very little hope of being effectively addressed by the Japanese government.Second, the menu of available foreign policy options is heavily constrained by domestic factors, chiefly the performance of Japan\’s economy and the composition of Japan\’s society. Without massive reform of Japan\’s domestic institutions, Japan will find its foreign policy being chosen for it. Again, the breakup of the DPJ would be extremely damaging to Japanese foreign-policy effectiveness.The DPJ, even disunited on foreign policy, represents the best hope for real political reform in Japan. If it breaks up, Japan could very well suffer another lost decade. That is an outcome to be avoided at all costs.


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