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Friday, Aug. 1, 2003


Shuttle diplomat Motegi a world apart from peers

Last in a series Staff writer In the past year, House or Representatives member Toshimitsu Motegi of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has traveled the world as one of Japan's most dynamic diplomats.

News photo
Vice Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi listens to school officials during his visit to an elementary school in Iraq in May. PHOTO COURTESY OF TOSHIMITSU MOTEGI

Last August, he was in war-torn Afghanistan to view the country's reconstruction efforts. Having become vice foreign minister in October, he visited Jordan, Syria, and Turkey in November as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's special envoy.

Motegi was in Iraq in March to make a last-ditch effort to negotiate with the Baghdad government before war broke out. In May, he was one of the first top officials to visit postwar Iraq, where he discussed its reconstruction with Paul Bremer, U.S. civilian administrator for the country.

"I've never seen a politician spring into action as quickly as Mr. Motegi. He is the type who would not hesitate to travel to the ends of the Earth," a senior Foreign Ministry official said, describing the vice foreign minister as a new breed of politician.

Fluent in English, the 47-year-old lawmaker has no problem communicating with the world's leaders without an interpreter -- a skill that won him accolades from Japan's diplomatic circle and the envy of his Diet colleagues.

Having twice visited Iraq, Motegi said he feels strongly that the country's reconstruction process entails not only repairing the damage from the latest war, but recovering from "two lost decades" under deposed leader Saddam Hussein.

"Over the past two decades, Iraq has been mired in a series of tragedies, including the Iran-Iraq War, the Persian Gulf War and the latest war. During this period, all major investments were military-related," Motegi said in an interview in his spacious office at the Foreign Ministry.

He said the Iraqi people still rely on old infrastructure and equipment, much of it built by Japanese companies. "In that sense, there are many things Japan can do to help the country."

Motegi said he supports the current idea circling within the government that a permanent legal framework should be established to allow Self-Defense Forces personnel to be dispatched abroad to contribute to various peaceful activities.

"We created the antiterrorism law to help the U.S.-led forces operating in Afghanistan, and this time, we have enacted a law to send SDF personnel to participate in Iraq's reconstruction efforts," he said.

"But we can't keep creating new laws every time a problem emerges. . . . Since Japan will have to play a larger role in the international community, it's worth considering a standing law."

A graduate of the prestigious University of Tokyo, Motegi worked for trading house Marubeni Corp. between 1978 and 1980. His thirst for a political career then led him to Harvard University.

While studying at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he worked part-time for a year at the office of then Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J. The position was highly sought after by students, according to Motegi.

"I appreciated very much that Sen. Bradley hired me, since I was a foreign student," Motegi recalled. "He was working on a tax reform bill at that time, and my job was to analyze the possible impact of cutting certain tax breaks."

Motegi said his analysis eventually became his thesis, for which he got an A.

Upon his return from the U.S., he worked for a consulting firm and drafted management strategies for various corporations. This experience eventually led to his political career, he said, because he began to consider applying corporate management strategies to "nation-building," and concluded he must become a lawmaker to achieve this end.

Motegi first vied for a House of Representatives seat from Tochigi Prefecture in 1993 and won.

Now in his third-term, he belongs to the LDP's largest faction, led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

"He is one of the two young aces our group has sent to Koizumi's government," Hashimoto boasted, referring to Motegi and Lower House member Tatsuya Ito, who currently serves as a vice financial services minister.

Impressed with Motegi's English proficiency and shuttle diplomacy, Hashimoto counts on him so much that he even asked the junior lawmaker to visit Israel in his stead in June. Hashimoto had received an invitation from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, but was unable to go.

"Many Japanese politicians like to portray themselves as knowledgeable and boast a large network of people, but when Motegi says he knows somebody, he is really close to that person," Hashimoto said.

He also said there are many Diet members who attend closed-door, even secret, diplomatic sessions who want to talk about their roles afterward -- but not Motegi.

"He is one of the few lawmakers who can be trusted to keep things confidential," Hashimoto said, noting that Motegi's knack of performing his duties professionally provokes jealousy among some of his colleagues.

Having worked his way up to the vice ministerial post, Motegi has his own philosophy on diplomacy: For Japan to conduct it with strength, public support is essential.

"Japanese leaders must clearly show the people and the world the direction its diplomacy is taking, so it can be better understood," he said.

Having graduated from top schools in both Japan and the U.S., Motegi also feels strongly about educational reforms. "Compared with the University of Tokyo, students at Harvard study much harder," he said.

Japanese students are worn out by the time they enter university because they have had to study for entrance exams for high school and then for college three years later, Motegi said.

"It's like having to keep sprinting hard without having the time to enjoy what's going on around you, as you only rush toward that goal." He advocates a six-year high school program combing junior high and high school, and thus only one entrance test at the beginning.

As for English, Motegi said that if he were to become prime minister, he would seek to make it Japan's second official language. He said Japan needs a system whereby people can prepare business and government documents in English.

"I want to make Japan a place where people of different nationalities can come and make their own success story, just like Wimbledon, which attracts the world's best tennis players," he said. "I want Japan to become an attractive society with diversity."

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The Japan Times

Article 5 of 11 in National news

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