Press Conference with Yukio Edano, Leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, held on September 23, 2020 at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ) in Tokyo:
Presenter: Hi, everybody, welcome to the FCCJ. Our speaker today, Yukio Edano, has been here several times before. He returns today amid major upheaval in the political scene here in Japan. At roughly the same time as Yoshihide Suga was taking over as Prime Minister from Shinzo Abe, Edano-san was elected to head the newly formed Constitutional Democratic Party. This party was formed out of the merger of two opposition parties, it brings together 150 members in both parliamentary houses. So a significant opposition party has been formed. That’s still well short of the 450 seats held by the LDP, Komeito, and their allies, but the question for Edano-san and his party is “can the opposition bloc score some points against Suga-san and the LDP,” and I imagine that’s what we’re going to be discussing today.
Edano: I am Yukio Edano, the Leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. This party was reborn in a new form very recently, on September 15, 2020, and now holds 150 members across both houses of the Diet. Particularly notable is that we have more than 100 members in the House of Representatives. Within the Japanese electoral system this is a very important point. In Japan we face the problem of voters feeling that they have no alternative to the ruling parties, so we as a party are looking to be recognized by the people as a valid choice. The fact that we have been able to reach 100 members in the House of Representatives demonstrates that we have achieved this basic condition.
During the seven years and eight months of the Abe Administration, the opposition parties have had a very difficult time. Now that we have finally been able to unite as one opposition party at this moment when the government is changing, we will be able to meet the needs of the time.
The new LDP President and Prime Minister, Mr. Suga, and I both served as the Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan, and as such have had the attention of the populace on us. Of course, in my case, I was the Chief Cabinet Secretary during the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami while Mr. Suga filled that role during the COVID-19 pandemic. These were both very significant crises for Japan, so that experience is something we have in common. Another point is that neither of us come from political dynasties. When the election system was reformed to pull from the general public, I was among the first people to stand for election and win a seat in the House of Representatives. This background of not being hereditary politicians is something Mr. Suga and I share. Of course, I think our personalities are very different, but we have had very similar careers. Now that we’ve both become the leaders of our respective parties, I look forward to competing with him for the leadership of the country.
Sometimes people ask me “how is this new Constitutional Democratic Party different from previous opposition parties like the Democratic Party of Japan?” I would like to take this opportunity to say that our new party is clearly different. Until now it has been difficult for the opposition parties to take a strong control over coursing the direction. However, we’ve been able to, through this new merging of the parties, to overcome this challenge. In the past, the opposition parties’ positions and basic policies were vague. With this new party, we have overcome this obstacle by laying out our positions and policies very clearly in our party platform.
Today we have distributed the preliminary English translation of the party platform to you all. If I could direct your attention to section two, titled “Our Goals,” and particularly to subsection “D,” you can see we have written here that we will not focus exclusively on immediate efficiency. Continuing from that, we write that we will not fall into a theory of excessive self-responsibility, and instead will look to overcome disparities in society.
Next, under subsection “F,” we refer to a robust and effective government. Under the LDP, from the time of Prime Minister Nakasone, up through the Koizumi and Abe administrations, there has been too much emphasis on the competition espoused by neoliberalism. At the same time, a theory of self-responsibility has been forced onto the public. Their attitude has been that the smaller the government and the fewer the regulations, the better, and so on. This has been the core aspect of the LDP until now. While the opposition has stated that they wish to go in a different direction, they have not always acted in accordance with this wish. In our new party platform we have clearly stated that we would move away from a neoliberal society. In clear contrast to the LDP, we propose a shift to a society of mutual support. A society where people can be cooperating together and supporting each other. In this society the government will be proactive in its work in order to overcome various risks and barriers.
From this clearly elaborated position, we plan to rebuild people’s lives, which have been severely impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. Secondly, we aim to overcome the disparities and divisions within society that have become larger and larger over the last 30 years. Our third goal is to look at how to stimulate the economy. Japan is the only developed nation that has not seen major economic growth in the last 30 years. We will look to stimulate consumption as a way to deal with this. With these clear positions, we believe that we can be a new choice for the people.
If you look at part “F” of our policy platform, you can see that we are espousing a realistic and pragmatic foreign policy.
As is written in the next paragraph, we are actually in agreement with the LDP that the alliance with the U.S. is the main axis of our foreign policy. However, you can see that we’ve added the word "healthy" to describe the relationship. There are some issues and concerns regarding American military bases and Status of Forces Agreements. Under the Abe administration, there has generally been a feeling that Japan has been forced to purchase various things according to the interest of the Unites States.
We, of course, believe that this alliance with the United States is at the center of Japanese foreign policy, and we do not have any intention of taking any steps which would jeopardize that alliance.
However, in my view, the LDP as it is now has not been properly expressing Japan’s voice, instead choosing to do “sontaku” towards the U.S. (This term sontaku means to try to pre-empt the wishes of another and act accordingly before being explicitly told to do anything.)
I do not believe that it will be easy to resolve issues surrounding Status of Force agreements or American bases in Japan centered in Okinawa. But if this is a true alliance, it is necessary to create a relationship wherein Japan’s hopes, opinions, and requests can be expressed and debated in order to ensure the long-term efficacy of our alliance. It is with this in mind that we are addressing foreign policy.
As my final point, in the week since the formation of the CDP, as we look towards the next election I have been raising as one of our core themes the idea that Japan should be a country which is standing upon renewable energy.
I believe that global warming and other environmental issues are at the highest priority for all of humanity in the 21st century and beyond.
Even though Japan has a relatively small territory, there are many parts of our country that are well suited for renewable energy. We also have a great accumulation of related technology.
Looking at these characteristics of Japan along with the skills and technologies, I believe that first we should be domestically aiming to reach as close as possible to 100% renewable energy, then to develop this further to be able to utilize these systems and technology to share with people around the world. I believe that this can be one of Japan’s great contributions to the global community, for which we should aim.
Thank you very much.
Q: You used the expression “clearly different” to describe the difference between the old party and the new party. I guess your problem will be convincing voters of that. Particularly given that you have several former Prime Ministers within your party, including Naoto Kan, Yoshihiko Noda, and Ichiro Ozawa. How are you going to hold this volatile party together?
Edano: We actually developed our party platform first, and then invited all those who agreed with it to join us. These principles will thus become our base, as every member of the party joined because they believed in them. We can return to these principles in order to maintain party unity.
Since 2009, the opposition forces have been criticized as unable to succeed due to differences of opinion. We must declare with confidence that we have thoroughly reflected on and learned from this, and are ready and able to take the political lead.
If we look at the 2009 administration, it suffered from a lack of experience. Internal conflicts were born from this lack of experience and became a problem as well.
During the 7 years and 8 months of the Abe Administration, the opposition had tried to use novelty to undermine the overwhelming force of the ruling administration, but I believe this approach was fundamentally wrongheaded.
Most people are seeking change in policies, but in regards to politics itself they want stability and ease of mind. If you aim to demonstrate novelty, you can’t cultivate feelings of stability or ease of mind. Therefore, people who have experienced setbacks caused by lack of experience in the previous administrations, including our elder statesmen, can bring something important to this new party. That our new party can bring together and build upon the reflections and lessons from the 2009-2011 administration to increase stability is one of its selling points.
Q: You spoke about the fact that the new party platform, and its break away from neoliberalism, is one of the most significant differences between this party and its predecessors. One other point is on that of cooperation with other parties. In the past there had been a problem within the opposition that, for example, if it were to lean to the left, then it could lead to dissent and conflict from right-leaning elements within the party. So I’d like to ask, with the CDP taking the lead in forming this new opposition, how are you viewing future cooperation with other left-leaning parties such as the Social Democratic Party or the Communist Party of Japan? This is not meant in the sense of mergers, but rather cooperation during the upcoming elections. Do you think cooperation will become easier? If so, what steps to enable that are in progress? Do you think that cooperation with these left-wing parties could lead to problems and backlash from the more moderate or conservative elements of the CDP?
According to data from a study by the LDP, if the Communist Party didn’t put forward any candidates in the single-seat constituencies, the LDP could, in their worst-case scenario, lose more than 60 seats in the Diet. In light of this, I think that it will become exceptionally important that the CDP and the Communist Party not split the opposition vote. What do you think, Edano-san?
Edano: Firstly, with regard to the Social Democrats, we have already been operating as a joint parliamentary group in the Diet for over a year, so we will continue to act as one, including during the elections.
With respect to the Communist Party of Japan, there are various points on which our policies are clearly different. These include our stances on the imperial system and the Japan-US alliance.
However, at the same time, there are also many points of commonality in regards to what needs to be done in the short term, on the scale of 3, 5, or 10 years to ameliorate Japan’s situation.
And so, while recognizing these differences between our parties, I believe that the CDP and CPJ share the understanding that we will make mutual efforts to maximize cooperation between us. I believe that this way of thinking is also broadly shared within the party.
As for concrete details of our cooperation, such as methods and themes, have yet to be discussed.
Q: If you are elected Prime Minister, would you consider reestablishing an organization like the Economic Planning Agency that contributed so much to Japan’s years of fast economic growth?
Edano: That’s an excellent question.
I believe that the kinds of policies which are needed now are very much different from those that were needed during the late Showa period (1926-1989) when the Economic Planning Agency was established.
That said, I believe that it is a significant loss that we no longer have an agency which could have a very broad perspective with which to understand, analyze, and strategize for the Japanese economy.
Of course, I do acknowledge that there are the appropriate departments within the cabinet that take on these same roles. However, the fact that there is no single separate agency handling this has meant that the influence of these departments has dramatically diminished.
And in order to improve the Japanese economy, to handle issues such as social welfare and wealth redistribution through the tax system, I believe that our policies must be built with that kind of broad perspective. To establish a dedicated government agency would be one way to bring that broad perspective back.
Q: As a follow up, the aforementioned agency is one example, but we can also see various other functions which have over time become much more centralized into the Cabinet. If you were to be elected, would you be looking at making a change with regards to the centralization of powers within either the Cabinet or the Prime Minister’s Office?
Edano: I am positive about letting the Prime Minister's Office and the Chief Cabinet Secretary have a strong function to make comprehensive adjustments on cross-ministeral topics.
The Cabinet Office was meant to have a strong function to coordinate various ministries and agencies, but in reality, it has not displayed proper leadership over the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry or the Ministry of Finance. Rather than looking at it as weakening something that is strong, the functions are weak as they are now. Our goal would be to make a strong enough independent department, and have the Cabinet Office led by the Chief Cabinet Secretary to demonstrate proper coordination .
Q: Will Japan need to raise consumption tax again in the future, and if so when?
Edano: At least now within my own perspective, we are not at all considering a raise in consumption tax. Rather, in re-examining the tax system in Japan, we are looking to raise corporate taxes for companies which are making huge amount of profits and income tax on wealthy individuals, as well as other finance-related aspects.
Q: Will the consumption tax be decreased?
Edano: Given the current state of society, I think that is a direction that should be pursued, if possible. But if it is not done well, it could lead to various issues. For example, if we announced we were decreasing the consumption tax, but there was a significant time period before it was actually implemented, that could lead to a pulling down of consumption within that period, so it has to be handled very cautiously.
Q: For almost the entire period following World War II, the LDP has held majority power in the Japanese government. I believe that this is connected to the conservative nature of Japanese political culture. Do you think it is possible for Japan to have regular changes of political power like, for example, the United States, in which Democratic and Republican parties take turns during different periods of time? Is it something you hope for?
If so, you referred before to your platform of “a society with mutual support.” Do you think this would be sufficient to cultivate such changes?
Edano: I don't think Japan’s political climate is conservative. If it was conservative, I should have stronger results in the elections. I say this because I take pride in my own conservative mainstream beliefs.
If we use Burke’s definition of conservative, I would be a true conservative, whereas Mr. Abe’s beliefs would be completely contradictory to conservatism.
I think the strength of the LDP comes from its ability to mobilize what you could call its roots. The activities it conducts at the regional level, as well as its network within local governments across Japan are so strong that we can’t compete. Unless we could nurture such a situation for the CDP, it would be very difficult to have two strong political parties like the United States does. I do believe that the current steps we are taking, such as hoisting our flag high with a clearer policy, are big steps toward that goal. However, to create a situation where changes of power happen with any real frequency, it is key that we look at nurturing and strengthening our local governments and local politicians.
Q: What is the single most important thing Japan could do, in your opinion, to improve relations between Japan and China? And vice versa, what should China do to improve relations with Japan?
Edano: I do not believe the relationship between Japan and China at the moment is something which is as simple that can respond to that question.
With regards to the human rights issues happening in Hong Kong and Tibet, for example, I believe that Japan needs to take a stronger stance. I see that the Japanese government is now perhaps stepping back or refraining from being as vocal as it should be on these issues.
I find the strengthening of military presence in the South China Sea and elsewhere, as well as the Taiwan issue, deeply regrettable.
At the same time, however, I do not believe that the Japanese government should take any actions which would ignore the feelings of the Chinese people, particularly with regard to the historical relationship between our two countries.
Q: You referred to the change in government, which you also referred to in your speech yesterday in Saga City, however when we look at the text of your speech, you also refer to the idea of the party being a “choice” as well. I have not been able, however, to gain a sense of any kind of concrete schedule. I was wondering if you have a concrete schedule as to when you aim to be taking on the government.
Edano: First of all, as for when we are aiming to be able to take on the government, this is not like studying for a test when you build up a schedule and have a deadline you’re working towards. That’s not the perspective I’m taking.
However, as long as the electoral system for the House of Representatives focuses on single-seat constituencies, the leader of the largest opposition party must be prepared to aim for the position of Prime Minister after the election. If the leader is not prepared for that, I don’t think they should be party leader.
The reason that I am very deliberately using the word “choice” is because I am aiming that we as a party can be recognized as a “choice” by the time the next election is announced. And following this, when the election takes place between the two choices, we want the people to choose us. That’s what we’re working towards right now, to be recognized as a viable choice.
Q: You said in Osaka that an election might take place in November. Do you expect Suga-san to announce on October 1st that he will dissolve the diet like some Japanese media are reporting? Are you and your party ready for a quick election?
Edano: After the speech in Osaka yesterday, information came out thanks to a government source, there is a policy that the next diet would be called at the end of October. If that were to be the case, then the earliest the election could take place would be in December. If the Diet is called within that time, unless we cancel the Olympics, there will be legislation related to the games that would need to be dealt with by the end of the year. Of course, we are always preparing for the earliest possible date for the election. To do so would be to disregard the livelihoods of the common people, but we cannot rule out the possibility of the election being called in November, so we are doing the necessary preparations for that.
As far as preparations for the election goes, the more time you have, the more you can do. We need to be able to adapt to it taking place on whatever time scale it ends up being. Therefore, in order to be recognized as a choice by the people, we need to stand at least 233 candidates in elections across the country. So, while it isn’t yet complete, we are laying the necessary groundwork to be able to do so.
Q: I believe that Japan is unique in having very little debate with regards to global warming and climate change, in comparison to other nations. If we take the presidential race within the LDP, for example, I did not once hear any proposal on these issues being debated. So I wanted to ask if you think this is an unusual circumstance, and what you think the reason for this is.
Edano: With regards to global warming and other ecological issues, I believe that our politics has not been able to sufficiently explain to ordinary people how these problems are connected to their lives and livelihoods.
But, if we actually look at the impacts of global warming, for example the heavy rains and flooding it has brought, or the dramatic changes in the types of fish and seafood which can be caught in our waters, I think the people who work in primary industry are taking these problems very seriously.
Since the formation of our new party, I have been espousing the goal of making Japan a nation that stands on renewable energy. When we explain our platform to people involved with primary industry, we get a lot of positive reactions from them.
I believe that if we can look at some of these issues to which politics has until now not given enough importance, and explain them to the public, they will have higher hopes for our new Constitutional Democratic Party. I certainly hope this will be the case.
Q: On the subject of renewable energy, would your party get out of nuclear power?
Edano: Our party’s position is clearly to be moving in the direction as fast as possible that will not be utilizing nuclear power.
If we look at the growth of the renewable energy sector, the issue of supply and cost is really only a matter of time until it is solved.
Q: You mentioned U.S. military bases in Okinawa and the Futenma Mondai, what is your new party’s position on the proposed relocation of the base to Henoko?
Edano: I think it is fully possible to ensure sufficient United States presence in the Western Pacific without the construction of a new base at Henoko.
And I believe that the U.S. domestic aspects, for example. looking at the position of the marines within the U.S. military and so on, these kind of power balance issues within the U.S. must also be taken into consideration when we are looking at how to resolve this issue.
As I mentioned, we place a great deal of importance on the Japan-U.S. alliance, and as such we will not be looking at forcing anything through, rather looking at how to have sufficient communication with the United States to have sustained negotiations. If we can do this, I believe it will be possible to come with a resolution which includes no new construction of base at Henoko but still eliminating the dangers at Futenma, so I’d like to endeavor towards that outcome.
Q: So are you against the base at Henoko?
Edano: Yes. At the current moment we believe the construction should pause for the time being and that there should be a dialogue with the United States to stop the construction from going ahead.
Q: How would your government handle monetary and fiscal policy? Would you stick with the expansionary fiscal policy of the LDP or start looking at debt?
Edano: I believe that our fiscal policy has been relaxed so much that it can’t be changed easily by anyone.
The current economic situation is also such that having a reduction in the financial scale would not be possible.
We would look at either maintaining or even expanding the current financial scale, and using it more effectively in order to ensure stable growth of the economy. We would need to look at how to restore stable and trustworthy investment, among other things, under this eased fiscal policy. Without going through this process, I do not believe that it would be possible to make any change to the foundations of Japanese fiscal policy.
Q: As a follow-up, if you were to be given control of the government, would you say you are seeking an exit from the current policy? With regard to the Bank of Japan, would you be keeping Kuroda as its head or would you be looking to make changes in the leadership of the Bank?
Edano: If I were to announce that we were looking for an exit at this point, it would lead to great confusion within the market, unfortunately, so I will make no such statement. Rather I would say that personnel decisions would be made keeping in mind or being conscious of an exit.
Q: And how about the issue of the Bank of Japan and government being together as one?
Edano: I do believe that there needs to be certain tension in the relationship between the two, but the issue at hand is not so much to do with the bank’s choice of policies but with the behavior of both parties giving the impression that they are working as one.
Q: There’s a great deal of discussion about how Japan will repay its debts, which are about 240% of its GDP, and revive its economy when it’s losing population: about 400,000-500,000 people a year. Would you support some kind of liberal immigration policy? Would you support embracing more foreigners in Japan?
Edano: Ideally we would want to have an open policy towards those who want to come and live in Japan.
Unfortunately, right now we face the very grave problem that many immigrants are being treated as a source of cheap labor, and we don’t have the resources in place, for example, for social welfare and education for their family members. These kinds of measures are needed in order to accept these immigrants who are coming to Japan. Without resolving them, I do not believe that accepting more immigrants would be good either for Japan or the immigrants themselves. Therefore, being able to create the necessary environment to better accept these people is important.
Q: Some voters remain skeptical about the opposition from 2009-2012, when the DPJ ruled Japan. How do you convince them that you’ve really learned the lessons from that period?
Edano: I am often asked about the consumption tax issue, but even if, hypothetically, we were to gain control of the House of Representatives in the next election, we would still be in a situation for the next two years where the LDP and Komeito coalition would retain the majority within the House of Councilors. And because, under the Japanese electoral system, only half of the House of Councilors is up for election each time, this situation could continue for up to five years. With that in mind, we couldn’t make any significant changes in the law without LDP’s approval. As such, we can’t carelessly tout our plans on this front.
Under the 2009 administration, we thought we could try to tackle all kinds of different issues in parallel at the same time. However, what this meant is that our efforts ended up being half-baked across the board. This is a significant lesson. Now we’re looking at things realistically, and it is realism that forms the basis of our policies. What changes can be made, what kinds of processes are necessary, we are looking at this realistically too, and will not make any irresponsible statements or promises we cannot achieve. This is the stance we have taken for the last 7 years and 8 months, and I believe that people will recognize this. This time, I’d like to have the people trust me as someone who only promises things we can achieve, and sweep away the specter of the 2009 administration.
And I’d like to add that while there may be some people who are uncertain about our party, considering the situation from 2009 to 2012, over the course of that 3 year and 3 month period, I garnered a degree of trust from the people as I worked in my emergency gear on the front lines of the disaster in Northeastern Japan.
Presenter: The last sitting Prime Minister we had here at FCCJ was Koizumi-san, over 10 years ago. For some reason, Abe-san has declined our repeated requests that he come visit us. So I would like to ask Edano-sensei to promise that if he becomes Prime Minister, he will come back and talk to us again.
Edano: I hope to come at this time next year.
Presenter: Thank you for coming here today.
Edano: Thank you very much.