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Leadership changes in Japan

Updated On: Sep 18, 2007

Japan’s most right-leaning and pro-constitutional reformer Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has fallen and his exit proved to be just as dramatic as his entrance with hospitalization for alleged fatigue and a mysterious ailment which is not publicized in the media.

"His doctor determined that his fatigue level has reached its peak, so I think that the doctor concluded that he needed to be examined at a well-equipped hospital," Abe’s Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano said.

Quitting abruptly just before a parliamentary debate on the bill to extend Afghan refueling operations has earned Abe the ridicule of the Japanese opposition parties. "In my almost 40 years in politics, it's the first time I've seen this," said Ichiro Ozawa, the leader of the main Japanese opposition party DPJ. This was a far cry form Mr. Abe’s description of himself as a “politician who fights”. “In the current situation, it will be quite difficult to forcefully pursue policies based on the people’s support and trust,” Mr. Abe said, seeming at one point on the verge of tears. Others speculate that the PM had cracked under extremeWashington pressures to continue the Japanese navy’s refueling operations in Afghanistan. The United States has turned up the pressure on Japan to extend the mission with U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer pushing hard for Washington's case.

With the demise of Abe, initially it seemed certain that former Foreign Minister Taro Aso would emerge victorious but his plans were thwarted by the re-emergence of Yasuo Fukuda, whom with party leaders’ backing, has emerged as the frontrunner. Fukuda has powerful support from other party chiefs, including the early support of Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, popular former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi  and Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga who gave up his own ambitions to be prime minister to support Fukuda. "I am of the same opinion as Fukuda about the importance of relations withAsia, and after talking with him, I decided to throw my support behind him," Nukaga said.

Fukuda is widely known in the region as a dove compared to the hawkish Taro Aso. For neighbouring countries, Fukuda made the important pledge of not visiting war-related Yasukuni Shrine if elected prime minister.

In a masterful move, Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda made a surprise video appearance at the Ninth World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention, signally his intentions to improve relations withChina and Greater China. 2,600 ethnic Chinese from 33 countries were present at this conference. "I would like to develop long-term relations between both countries in a sound and stable manner," he said. Fukuda also apologized for his absence from the conference and speaking through the video link, explaining it as due to his campaign schedule. But he left off with a promise to re-focus Japan’s emphasis onEast Asia. However, Fukuda’s emphasis left open questions about how Japan would balance its relationship with its neighbours and its traditional ally in Washington.

On the key domestic issue on constitutional change, which is widely followed by Japan’s neighbours and the US, Fukuda also emphasized the need for a calmer relook.   "I think it is good to study the issue (of collective defense) and hold discussions," Fukuda said. "But we must carefully consider whether it goes against the Constitution."

Sensitive to leadership changes within JapanChina was quick to react to the news of Abe’s demise. China's fourth-ranked leader Jia Qinglin almost immediately pledged to promote ties with Japan. Jia said it is China's consistent policy to develop long-term and steady good-neighborly friendship with Japan, and this basic guideline will not change no matter what political changes take place in Japan. Jia said leaders of the two countries have reached important consensus on building bilateral strategic relationship for mutual benefit and realizing the goal of peaceful co-existence, friendship for generations, reciprocal cooperation and common development. He said the two sides should firmly implement the consensus so as to ensure a correct direction for the development of Sino-Japanese ties.

Sources:

China entrepreneurs back ties with Japan (Japan Times, 16 September 2007)

Fukuda enters race, vows to avoid Yasukuni (Japan Times, 16 September 2007)

Party Chiefs in Japan Favor Veteran (NY Times, 15 September 2007)

Aso, Fukuda vie for prime minister post (AP, 14 September 2007)

Premier’s Resignation Leaves Japan in Disarray (NY Times, 13 September 2007)

China's policy on friendly relations with Japan will not change (People’s Daily, 13 September 2007)

Japanese premier treated for exhaustion (AP, 13 September 2007)

After Abe's Exit, Will Japan Retreat? (Time, 12 September 2007)

Prime Minister of Japan Will Step Down (NY Times, 12 September 2007)