Takako Doi: A Different Voice

Takako Doi came closer than any other postwar politician to breaking the Liberal Democratic Party’s grip on power when she led the Japan Socialist Party in national elections in 1989 and 1990. She talked recently to Osaka-based journalist
Brian Covert about Japan’s changing world role and her hopes for a new set of priorities.

If you had become prime minister in 1989, what changes would you have made to win back public trust in politicians?

(Laughing) I would have done a lot of things! First, we need drastic laws to prevent bribery and corruption. No policy can succeed without the trust of the people. Nothing makes people more distrustful of politics than ambiguous explanations, makeshift excuses or buying time. I strongly believe that clarity is necessary in politics. There are people who say they can’t grasp what’s going on in the Diet [parliament], even after watching or listening to the process. Politics must be easy to understand.

How do you feel about the passing of the peacekeeping operations bill, under which Japanese forces are going overseas again?

We [socialists] think highly of Japan’s role in international contributions. Therefore we, too, have suggested what Japan’s role should be and how Japan should contribute to the world. Just as other countries have what is most important to them as their basic policies, Japan has its constitution — its supreme law. The biggest problem is that the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces has been prohibited under any circumstances by the constitution. We cannot agree with it.

But don’t think that means we are opposed to Japan making international contributions. I want to stress that it is we who are actually thinking deepest about those contributions. We have made a lot of suggestions about what Japan can do in nonmilitary areas. During my last visit to the United States, for example, I said that Japan would like to make efforts toward [the passing of] an international ban on the trade in military weapons. I also proposed that we refrain from giving aid to developing countries that allocate more than 20 percent of their budgets to defense, that are developing biochemical weapons or that are fiercely competing in the development of new weapons.

What about the way in which the bill was passed?

The way the bill was deliberated in the Diet was another problem. This problem concerns the country’s most basic policy. For example, in Germany’s case, unless it changes its fundamental law it cannot send troops outside NATO borders. Germany took a lot of time to decide whether or not to change this fundamental law. But in the case of Japan, this PKO bill was hastily enacted by force, cutting off scheduled [opposition] questioners. Such kind of deliberation should receive no sympathy at all from the public. It’s abnormal. The bill was enacted against the rule of democracy.

You have often said that Japan is an economic giant but a human rights midget. Why?

Because Japan’s awareness of human rights has a long way to go — in stark contrast to its economic power. It’s painful to have it pointed out that Japan may be in the black in trade but it’s in the red in morality. Domestically, not enough is being done about discrimination and about the discrepancy [between the haves and have-nots]. Abroad, neither Japan’s postwar policy nor its attitude has reflected any sign of regret for causing World War II. Regarding the gap between the [global] North and the South, Japan as an advanced nation will come under question about how it makes efforts to eliminate or correct that gap in Asia. For instance, Japan’s official development assistance (ODA) has so far stressed economic development. I propose that priority be shifted to protecting the environment, abolishing poverty, and upgrading medical treatment, education, and sanitation — that is, social development.

How do you view Japan’s relationship with the United States?

Japan-U.S. relations are indeed important, but I think the relationship must always be viewed as part of the international community — not just between the two, but in a global context. It’s important that both countries have their own firm views as to what the future of the world should be and how both countries can co-exist, and that they be more open with each other. Japan should not just follow what America thinks; it should have its own views. Everything Americans have heard [from the Japanese side] seems to have come either from the ruling party or from the Japanese government. When Japanese public opinion has differed, [the difference] hasn’t always been clearly communicated to the outside world. It’s important for us opposition parties to make our positions better known for the sake of democracy. In a democracy, the fact that these opinions exist should not be ignored.

Finally, what kind of legacy do you want Japan and the Japanese people to leave?

[To be known] not only as an economic power but also as a power for human rights and environmental protection — and also as an internationally reliable nation.