Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara announced Thursday that he will resign and return to national politics by launching a new political party and becoming its leader. He is stepping down as governor nearly two and half years before his term expires. Given his popularity and personality, and voters’ frustration with the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the No. 1 opposition Liberal Democratic Party, his move will have a political impact. Although Mr. Ishihara has some accomplishments as Tokyo governor, his political orientation must be strictly watched, including his views on the Constitution and foreign policy.
As governor of Tokyo, Mr. Ishihara succeeded in reconstructing the metropolitan government’s finances, imposed strict restrictions on exhausts from diesel vehicles, internationalized Haneda airport and pushed the redevelopment of urban districts. But he did not make improvements in areas directly related to people’s daily lives, such as social welfare, medical services and cultural services.
It must not be forgotten that Mr. Ishihara repeatedly made provocative statements about China and that his plan to purchase three of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea sowed the seeds of the current diplomatic crisis between Japan and China. As expected, in Thursday’s news conference he showed no remorse over the damage wrought by the crisis, including high tensions in the seas around the islands and heavy financial losses sustained by Japanese businesses. On Thursday, he repeated his proposal to build port facility in the Senkakus to shelter fishing boats in storms — a step that would further complicate the Japan-China relations if it was carried out.
Mr. Ishihara also repeated his pet theme that Japan must rewrite the Constitution because it “was imposed by the (U.S.) occupying army and is rendered in ugly Japanese.” These words give the wrong impression that the Japanese government was not involved in writing the Constitution when in fact the Japanese legislature created Article 25, which guarantees people “the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living,” and changed the original text of the war-renouncing Article 9.
Gov. Ishihara proposes to abolish Article 9. But given Japan’s military actions in the 1930s and in World War II, doing so would only serve to deepen regional suspicions about Japan and could lead to its isolation. Mr. Ishihara should not forget that the United States, China and Russia all fought Japan, that Korea and Taiwan were colonized by Japan, and that China and Southeast Asian countries were invaded and occupied by Japan. In view of this history, Japan must conduct its defense and foreign policies in a responsible manner that take into account regional sensitivities.
Mr. Ishihara’s policy proposals are not without merits. For example, his call for introducing bookkeeping by double entry into the central government is quite reasonable. But his call for changing Japan’s governing system is too broad. He must present his proposals in a concrete manner so people can judge whether they will truly enhance their well-being.