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Leader of student group SEALDs on security legislation, constitutional revision, more

(Bungeishunju: November 2015 – pp. 152-159)

 

 (Dialogue between conservative writer Tsunehira Furuya and Aki Okuda, leader and founding member of SEALDs [Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy-s])

 

 Furuya: What made you form the group SEALDs?

 

 Okuda: I first began to distrust politics after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, when I was 18 years old. I started going to watch the anti-nuclear plant demonstrations.

 

 The first time I joined a demonstration on my own was in late 2013, when the law on special state secrets was enacted. However, I began organizing people to say “no” to the Abe administration in July last year, when the cabinet decision authorizing the exercise of the right to collective self-defense was made. We gave our group the name SEALDs last May, after the cabinet decision on the security legislation. At first, there were only five or six of us, but by the end of June, thousands of people were joining the demonstrations.

 

 Furuya: I agree that more time should be devoted to the deliberation of each of these important bills, but I can understand the Abe administration’s wish to swiftly pass the bills in light of the drastic increase in China’s military threat.

 

 Okuda: I can understand the Chinese military threat, but I think thorough discussion of the right to individual self-defense would show that a lot can be done under this right. Why jump to the conclusion of exercising the collective defense right?

 

 Furuya: Taiwan is a good example in dealing with the China threat. There had been three “Taiwan Strait crises” between Taiwan and China from the 1950s to the 1990s.

 

 Okuda: In each instance, the U.S. merely provided food and weapons but did not participate in actual battle. I think Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reasoning that “the collective defense right will enhance deterrence” relies too much on the U.S., so it is risky for Japan.

 

 Furuya: The Self-Defense Forces are becoming increasingly integrated with the U.S. forces, and this seems to go against the principle of self-reliance and independence from the U.S. And yet this also seems to be a realistic option when it comes to dealing with China.

 

 Okuda: Abe thinks that Japan is safe with the U.S.’s backing, and he is making all this big talk overseas. His offer of $200 million to help fight the Islamic State in January and his speech to the U.S. Congress in April make people think that Japan will go along with whatever the U.S. does.

 

 Furuya: Despite his slogan of breaking away from the postwar regime, Abe seems to be moving in the opposite direction in terms of independence from the U.S. and making this irrevocable.

 

 Okuda: One problem with the security legislation has to do with the SDF. The SDF is not legally an armed force, so when SDF members are captured, they will not even be treated as prisoners of war under international law. There is too much risk sending the SDF overseas with so many issues remaining unresolved.

 

 Furuya: Are you saying you are not against the exercise of the collective defense right if Article 9 of the Constitution is revised through a legitimate process to make the SDF Japan’s national army?

 

 Okuda: The democratic way is to revise Article 9 through a referendum and the collective defense right can only be exercised after that.

 

 I am fine with constitutional revision if the result is a new constitution that I can truly support. However, looking at the Liberal Democratic Party’s draft, it’s just too awful; it shows no regard for safeguarding basic human rights. In that case, I’ll stick with the existing constitution.

 

 Furuya: I have a feeling one reason people come to the SEALDs demonstrations is because you are cool and stylish.

 

 Okuda: It’s true that being cool is a tool we use to change the image that participating in social movements is “not cool.”

 

 Furuya: The information that SEALDs gets money from certain organizations is widely circulated on the Internet.

 

 Okuda: At first, the money for our activities came from our own pockets. However, with the increase in participants, we get a lot of donations. At this point, I don’t see any need for us to get funds from any organization.

 

 We don’t want to get involved with the violent leftist extremists, so we do check if there are members of the Chukaku-ha or Kakumaru trying to join us.

 

 Furuya: You have become a favorite topic of the media.

 

 Okuda: It’s too bad they dump everybody together as “young people” and are obsessed with the idea that “SEALDs changed the apolitical young people.” That’s overestimating us. It’s more accurate to say that SEALDs created a venue for discontented young people to speak up.

 

 Furuya: Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has a point when he said why didn’t you do something during the House of Representatives election last year, when Abe pledged to go ahead with security legislation? The general elections of 2012 and 2014 both gave the LDP and Komeito an overwhelming majority in the Lower House.

 

 Okuda: The general election of 2014 had the lowest voter turnout in postwar history. The LDP won 67% of the seats with only the votes of 25% of eligible voters. They cannot pass unconstitutional laws just because they control the majority.

 

 Furuya: Hashimoto is saying people who go to demonstrations should work through elections. Are you interested in going into politics?

 

 Okuda: I would like to remain politically neutral. I am thinking of disbanding SEALDs before the Upper House election next summer. I am planning to go to graduate school. However, I would like to cultivate a culture where young people can join demonstrations or political events to discuss national affairs and politics freely after work. (Summary)

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