WSJ Interview: Japan Senior Political Figure Ichiro Ozawa: ‘If we do nothing, even Tokyo could become off limits. There is a huge amount of uranium fuels in the plants, much more than in Chernobyl. This is a terrible situation. The government doesn’t tell the truth and people live in a happy-go-lucky…’

Not to forget the huge amount of plutonium!

Transcript of Interview With Ichiro Ozawa (Wall Street Journal, May 26, 2011):

The following is a partial transcript from The Wall Street Journal Interview with Japan senior political figure Ichiro Ozawa, who is calling on Prime Minister Naoto Kan to step down. Ozawa is a long-time rival within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and is facing charges of improprieties over his fund-raising organization.

Q: By and large, how would you assess the government’s response to the earthquake and nuclear crisis?

A: It’s been two months, actually 70 days, but the situation at the nuclear reactors is still out of control.

The Kan administration’s handling of the situation has been extremely slow. Their understanding of the gravity of the radioactive contamination has been altogether too rosy, or rather they haven’t understood it at all.

The administration hasn’t taken the initiative in making decisions and executing policies. Decision-making equals taking responsibility. So if nobody is taking responsibility, nothing is being decided.

Q: Why didn’t the Kan administration inform the public of the severity of the problems at the nuclear plants? Did they know?

A: Of course the administration knew.

Q: What could the government have done to prevent the flare-up in the nuclear crisis?

A: First of all, it makes no sense to point fingers at Tepco (plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.), given the current situation. There are a lot of arguments going on, blaming TEPCO, blaming this person and that person. They are all meaningless. There is no point in blaming Tepco. I strongly believe the government must take the leadership and take the initiative in determining what to do. In reality, Tepco is no longer capable of doing anything. (By not facing reality) we are moving toward a tragedy, day by day.

Q: Prime Minister Kan set up a task force and has stationed government officials inside Tepco’s offices so they can keep tabs on the company. Is that enough?

A: When Tepco knew what was happening at the nuclear plants, the government must have known it as well. As I said, they can’t go on blaming others. The government must take responsibility and take the lead in coming up with solutions.

Q: If you had been in charge, would you have disclosed all the information about the meltdown in the initial stage?

A: Yes. I would have. There is no use in holding back information. We have to decide what to do, based on the premise of the information we have. This problem may be contained in Fukushima for now, but the contamination may spread outside of Fukushima. Anxiety and frustration are growing. People cannot live in the contaminated areas. These areas are becoming uninhabitable. Japan has lost its territory by that much. If we do nothing, even Tokyo could become off limits. There is a huge amount of uranium fuels in the plants, much more than in Chernobyl. This is a terrible situation. The government doesn’t tell the truth and people live in a happy-go-lucky…

Q: Mr. Kan seems to have turned to many people for advice. What seems to be the problem?

A: It’s not enough. Precisely, it’s meaningless to put together a team made up exclusively of people who depend on nuclear power to make a living. All of them are members of the nuclear mafia. Did you see all those scholars saying “the crisis is not so terrible,” “won’t harm the health at all” on TV? What they say is meaningless because they depend on nuclear power for their livelihood. But people, and the Japanese media, don’t understand it. The Japanese media is helpless.

Q: How far can Mr. Kan go before he should resign?

A: It’s hard to say how long he should stay. He hasn’t done anything. If we let him dilly-dally like this, we’ll soon be facing a tragedy.

Q: Why do you think such an accident happened?

A: We need to depend on nuclear energy to a certain degree. But we need to bear in mind that this is a transitional source of energy, because we are not able to process high-level radioactive nuclear waste.

Q: Is your criticism that Mr. Kan has not been forthcoming about the condition of the accident, or that the administration was weak, allowing the situation to get out of hand? Do you think if the Kan administration were stronger, we could have contained the situation much earlier?

A: People are beginning to realize the DPJ-led government—the Kan administration in particular—is not living up to its promise. That is why the administration is losing the support of the people.

Q: Does taking responsibility mean that Mr. Kan should step down? If Mr. Kan refuses to step down, do you think legislators should submit a censure motion against him to force him to quit?

A: If the prime minister cannot implement policies, it’s meaningless for him to stay in power.

Q: There have been discussions about possibly submitting a censure motion or a no-confidence vote to parliament. At a time of this national crisis, how do you think the public would view such a development?

A: In Japanese eyes, it’s in hard times that we have to go out of our way to be nice to each other. That’s why things don’t work out. The Japanese media is responsible too. When we’re in a time of peace, we can have any type of leader and we are fine. This is a difficult time, a time of crisis. That’s why we need to choose a leader who can withstand the hardship and an administration that can endure it.

Japanese way of thinking is the opposite to that. People from continents don’t think like that. As the Japanese have been taking peace for granted, we tend to avoid confrontation and try to get along with each other. But being friendly with each other won’t solve any problems. We try to have harmless and inoffensive conversations to avoid confrontation. But if this was sufficient, there would be no need for politicians. We can just leave everything to bureaucrats.

Q: But do we have strong leaders to replace Mr. Kan?

A: There are plenty.

Q: Speaking of strong leaders, the public sees you as a forceful leader. Do you have any plans to lead?

A: I’m an old soldier. Have you heard of General MacArthur’s words, “Old soldiers just fade away”? I was thinking about just fading away, but now I feel I have a bit more work to do.

Q: This will be a different topic, but what is the current situation and what do you plan to do about the allegations of the violation of the political funds law that you’re facing?

A: There’s no direction I’m planning to take, since I have done nothing wrong.

This is quite a danger to this country’s democracy. That means that only those favored by the government or by the prosecutors can take part in politics. They can do anything they want. Anything can be done with such powers and it’s really scary. You could face the danger of being arrested over your stories. That’s what it is. You cannot allow such things to happen. If I really received any money illegally, I would have retired ages ago.

They conducted the investigation for over a year and they still haven’t found anything. All they ever found was that I wrote the report in a wrong way.

Q: Reconstruction will require a lot of money and resources, and the Diet is currently debating the need for a second supplementary budget. What is the urgency and how large should this second reconstruction budget be? Where would funding come from?

A: That’s another typical Japanese way of thought. No matter how much money it takes it must be done. With all that happening you can’t live in Japan. Some day we may not be able to live in Japan. There is the possibility that the power plant can reach the state of criticality again. If it explodes, it’s a huge matter. Radiation is being leaked in order to keep the reactors from exploding. So, in this sense, it’s even worse than letting the power plant explode. Radiation is going to be flowing out for a long period of time. This is not a matter of money, but of life and death for the Japanese. If Japan cannot be saved, then the people of Japan are done for. We can always print money. Ultimately the people will have to bear the burden. Government must be determined to put a stop to radioactive pollution no matter what it takes, money or otherwise. The Japanese people must understand the situation. Bonds will have to be paid back, but if you can save lives with money, then so be it.

Q: Should Tepco be treated in the same manner that other failed businesses have been dealt with?

A: Tepco is not a big deal. The fate of a single private sector company is not the fundamental issue. Let’s say Tepco really becomes bankrupt and you leave it as it is. Then it would become unable to distribute electricity and operate. That would be the biggest problem. Moreover, since they’ve issued five trillion yen worth of corporate bonds, the bond prices might plunge and have a huge impact on the public bond market. Also, they have borrowed trillions of yen from the banks and not being able to return the money would create trouble for the banks. Can this situation be dealt with? Not a problem. The point is to stop the radioactive contamination.

Q: You told us in our last talk that your goal was to crush the Liberal Democratic Party (the dominant party for most of the post-war period, now in opposition). With your criticism of the (now ruling) Democratic Party, do you think perhaps the LDP may be a better leader of government than the current DPJ?

A: I haven’t looked at things in such way. It’s just that the people are starting to see things in such a way. What was different between what actually happened and the political blueprint I had in mind was that I expected the DPJ to be more serious and almost brutally honest. I think that if they took the stance I was expecting them to take, the public would have continued to support them even if any given policy was delayed or altered. And as the DPJ continues down this road, I believe that the LDP, a very traditionally Japanese political party, is also necessary.

I was picturing a two-party system with the new LDP taking form, even though the LDP is currently virtually collapsed. But something went wrong with the DPJ and those who used to strongly support the party lost their faith in it.

For example, Kyocera’s Mr. Inamori and Mr. Suzuki, the chairman of Suzuki Motors, heads of corporations with trillions of yen in revenues, have been supporting the DPJ. They’re now outraged at the current state of the DPJ. They’ve even said the DPJ should be crushed and that the party should be rebuilt from scratch. The path the DPJ took in reality was different from the path I had in mind. Well, now that things have changed, I guess I have to deal according to the current circumstances. But my ultimate goals/vision hasn’t changed despite the gap between the reality and the image I had in mind. I want to establish parliamentary democracy in Japan. This goal of mine has not changed at all.

Q: If a no confidence motion (against Prime Minister Kan) went before the Diet now, would you support that?

A: I am thinking about how to deal with that right now.

Q: How long do you think Prime Minister Kan will stay in office as prime minister?

A: He wants to stay in office as long as he can. That’s the problem. That is what Kan regards as his top priority. That is why everyone is stuck.

Q: You say that you want to do some more political work, but what exactly do you want to do?

A: What I’ve been saying. I want to install a parliamentary democracy in Japan. This is something I am still trying to achieve. In reality what is happening is that the DPJ has lost the public’s backing and the LDP is no longer the LDP it used to be. If this continues, the political scene of Japan will be a mess. So, I’ve decided to give my old bones a push to prevent such a scenario from taking place.

1 thought on “WSJ Interview: Japan Senior Political Figure Ichiro Ozawa: ‘If we do nothing, even Tokyo could become off limits. There is a huge amount of uranium fuels in the plants, much more than in Chernobyl. This is a terrible situation. The government doesn’t tell the truth and people live in a happy-go-lucky…’”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.