The race is now on, and it is between Fukuda and Aso, with Fukuda ahead. Both candidates put forward their views on Japanese international relations, and it is worth a read:
Aso, Fukuda agree on refueling mission, but differ on N Korea, Yasukuni
Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 17:25 EDT
TOKYO – Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda and Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Taro Aso clashed over issues surrounding North Korea and Tokyo’s war-related Yasukuni Shrine as they kicked off a dove-versus-hawk duel Saturday for the Sept 23 party presidency election to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
But Fukuda and Aso offered little differences in their policy platforms over other issues in a joint news conference, with both agreeing on the need to extend an antiterrorism refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and vowing to continue the course of structural reforms albeit with policy adjustments where necessary to revive local economies.
The ruling LDP’s election appears to be a done deal with Fukuda as the winner having already garnered widespread factional support to succeed Abe, 52, who on Wednesday abruptly announced his intention to step down and was subsequently hospitalized.
On Japan’s position on North Korea, especially in dealing with the unresolved abductions of Japanese nationals, Fukuda called for a flexible stance while maintaining the “dialogue and pressure” approach to resolve the issue.
“We must devise some means to convey to the other side our desire and readiness to conduct negotiations,” Fukuda, 71, said at the joint press conference held after the two officially filed candidacies at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo.
But Aso, who was foreign minister under both administrations of Abe and his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, defended the pressure-oriented approach as the correct way and that it has achieved results.
“The abductions were the extreme of inhumanity,” said Aso, who shares many of Abe’s hawkish and conservative views. “We have learnt from experience that we won’t get to negotiations without pressure.”
On Yasukuni, which enshrines 14 Class-A war criminals along with the war dead, Fukuda said he wants to realize the plan to build a secular national memorial facility to commemorate the war dead.
Fukuda, who has been pursuing the plan since 2002 when he was chief Cabinet secretary, said earlier on Saturday when announcing his candidacy that he will not go to the controversial Shinto shrine to avoid upsetting Asian neighbors that suffered from Japanese wartime aggressions.
Meanwhile, Aso stressed that even if a new memorial facility is built, it would not be a replacement for Yasukuni. But he did not make clear whether he will visit the shrine.
On other issues, however, the two shared similar views. Both vowed to rebuild public trust in the party and to create a society where Japan’s graying population can live at ease, in an apparent reference to growing concerns over the sustainability of the public pension system and the possibility of a consumption tax hike.
Both candidates said they will seek to extend the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission to support U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan.
Fukuda said he intends to consult closely with the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan and others to convince them to agree to the extension.
Aso said he will pursue a new law or other options to continue the mission beyond the Nov 1 legal deadline, noting that simply seeking an extension of the current special antiterrorism law is “quite” difficult due to strong rejection by the opposition side.
The refusal by the DPJ, which overtook the LDP as the largest party in the House of Councillors in the July 29 election, to agree to the extension was one of main reasons cited by Abe in his sudden resignation announcement. The opposition camp can delay the passage of legislation with its DPJ-led majority in the upper house.
Whoever wins will face the daunting task of steering the party through the current political deadlock with the DPJ-led opposition camp, including the imminent showdown in parliament over legislation to extend the refueling mission.
Fukuda has gained support by many LDP members in all nine factions except a small one led by Aso, 66. Public opinion in a recent Kyodo News poll also favored Fukuda 28.1% to 18.7% for Aso.
Another key issue in the LDP election will be how to shore up the party base after the devastating setback in the July election where the ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito party lost its upper house majority.
Earlier in the morning, Fukuda said in officially announcing his candidacy, “The current circumstances were certainly unexpected…After listening to the recommendations by many who supported my running in the race and the ensuing encouragement, I felt strongly that I must shoulder the responsibility to face this difficult situation.”
Fukuda repeatedly said he plans to seek talks with the DPJ, including its leader Ichiro Ozawa, to gain cooperation in parliamentary affairs. He was most notably referring to the refueling mission’s extension and the opposition’s demand for a snap election in the lower house.
Aso announced his candidacy Friday, criticizing the overwhelming factional support for Fukuda as backroom dealing by the other faction leaders and a “regression to old LDP politics, but vowing to “fight fairly and squarely till the end” despite being in a disadvantaged position.
Aso indicated he aims to campaign for the support of those unaffiliated with any factions, as well as the party rank and file.
The winner is assured of Japan’s premiership as the LDP controls the country’s lower house, which has final say in appointing the prime minister. The new party leader’s term will last until September 2009.
Both Fukuda and Aso come from famous political families – the former a son of former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda and the latter a grandson of former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida.
Both held key posts under Abe’s predecessor Koizumi, with Fukuda as chief Cabinet secretary and Aso as foreign minister. But their political ideologies differ in some fields.
The dovish Fukuda favors promoting amicable relations with neighboring countries, while the hawkish Aso is known for his conservative views and controversial remarks that have angered China.
Fukuda and Aso are scheduled to hold a policy debate at LDP headquarters and street campaigns in Tokyo on Sunday. They will campaign in Osaka and Takamatsu in western Japan on Monday, a national holiday, and in the northeastern city of Sendai next Saturday.
Voting will begin at 2 p.m. Sept 23, with the 387 eligible LDP lawmakers each given one ballot and the 47 prefectural chapters given three each to reflect the choices of rank-and-file members.
Abe appears to have been a necessary evil, however. He pushed through the normalisation of the Defence Agency to a ministry, and tipped the balance on North Korea so that they will be grateful to see a new face in office. It has often been said that Abe was Koizumi’s ‘bad cop’ at the Pyongyang Summit. I would take this further and suggest that he was the ‘bad cop-PM’ to whatever more moderate leader follows.
I recall the NBR Japan Forum debating this very issue (although with relation to taxes) as the reason that Fukuda withdrew his candidacy last year. Abe was to be a temporary hard-liner who would get the dirty jobs of reassembling the LDP and implements tough policies so that the air would be cleared for a longer-term minister. Perhaps then, we should not underestimate the back-room management of the LDP. If such machinations are at work, then it only goes to show one thing: Japan is going through some interesting times.