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Tokyo Governor's Tough Talk Continues

By: Michael March

Date Posted: 1999-05-01

It's becoming clear that as long as Shintaro Ishihara is governor of Tokyo, journalists will always have plenty to write about. Even before his election win on April 11, Ishihara, a self-declared nationalist, made several provocative statements to voters, including what seemed to be several off-the-cuff remarks. Some of his most recent utterances include: Japan should be saying "no" more often; demands for the return of Yokota Air Base, one of the US military's largest; voicing concerns over the Chinese government's policies toward Taiwan and Tibet; and criticizing the government's role in recent spying missions by North Korea. . Last Friday, amid general back-slapping and congratulatory messages from followers and the party faithful following his inauguration, Ishihara announced Japan was readying for a new political era in which politicians, including himself, would be made accountable for their actions. He also wanted to remind everyone about his determination. "I am not denying I hawkish," AFP quoted the 66-year-old governor as saying, "but unless we debate honestly there will be no understanding and friendship." He then spoke about his plans for a new frontier. "I believe it is very effective to send a new message from here to Japan and the world, that we are in an era of historical transition," he said. But the recent admission his pre-election demand for a return of Yokota Air Base was only a "bluff" may leave some supporters doubting his sincerity. And his views on China continue to ruffle political feathers, both here and in China.

When questioned by Chinese reporters about recent comments he made about China, Ishihara stood tough. According to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Ishihara said: "As a human being, I cannot tolerate the inhumane actions taken (by the Chinese government) in Tibet." He also said neighboring countries were concerned about comments by Chinese leaders that China might liberate Taiwan by force, according to the Nikkei. And there was certainly more notes to take during this, his first day on the job, when he announced he would take a 10 percent salary cut, and reduce his annual bonus by half. It didn't end there. During the press conference, Ishihara also forewarned colleagues they too would need to follow a similar line. "I want (local government officials) to have a sense of business management. I am also thinking of reducing the number of new hirings in the metropolitan government by one-third," he told reporters covering the inauguration.

Can he make these policies a reality? Clearly it's too early to tell. But if his promises pack as big a punch as his campaign pledges changes might occur. "What I realized during the campaign was that the established parties have no value, and that's what the people felt," said the Governor, adding "the people have waited for a strong and clear message."

Voters accustomed to Ishihara's strong views on most things close to their heart, will no doubt hope his campaign pledges don't remain just that - promises. If that happens, Ishihara will continue to see his name in the papers long after he has left office.

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