Rebel Renho

Taiwanese-Japanese politician comes with message of peace for China, writes Jasper Moiseiwitsch

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 April, 2013, 11:22pm

Murata Renho, 45, is a member of the House of Councillors, one of two law-making bodies of the Japanese Diet. Functionally she is equal to a United States senator.

Twenty-five years ago she was a pin-up girl for Clarion, a car-stereo maker, which she leveraged into a career in television journalism. She led a glamorous life until she saw her career and ambitions deflated by the collapse of Japan's bubble economy in the early 1990s. It was a disillusioning experience that has defined her political career.

"When the Japanese bubble economy burst all the TV stations had less revenue from all the commercials. The production budget for all those TV programmes was shrinking. I was very conflicted and upset because the limit on resources meant we were not able to report political and social problems," Renho says. "When I received an offer to enter politics I switched careers to solve social issues as a politician."

The likeable and telegenic Renho (she prefers her given name) shot to prominence after winning election in 2004. Among many senior roles, she screened budget requests for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, and served in the cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

Renho, born in Tokyo to a Taiwanese father and Japanese mother, expressed concern about the anti-Japan protests related to the longstanding dispute over the sovereignty of a group of islands known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

"In the mainland, there was an anti-Japan movement boycotting Japanese products, there was a violent protest against the Japanese, and there was economic damage to the Japanese firms in China," says Renho, who wants a more "amicable relationship" with China. "I have a deep feeling for China," says Renho, who studied at Beijing University in 1995-97.

Renho, a member of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, has expressed support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic platform, which calls for aggressive money and fiscal stimulus to help reverse deflation. Since Abe swept to power in December, the Japanese yen has fallen against other major currencies, sending Japanese shares sharply higher. "I really appreciate Mr Abe's ability to create this optimism," Renho says.

Japan is also burdened with high levels of public debt and relies on investors to continuously turn over trillions of yen worth of government bonds. Is Renho worried that investors might eventually reject these bonds if the yen continues to depreciate and interest rates start to rise, devaluing existing bonds? "There is no alternative. Nothing that can replace Japanese government bonds," says Renho, who was in Hong Kong in March to attend the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference.

Renho is famously sticky about schedules - she wraps up her interview within the allotted time. Always the TV journalist with an eye to commercial issues, she finishes, laughing: "I hope this interview helps you sell a lot of editions."