JIN-433 -- Meet Mr Fukuda

J@pan Inc Newsletter

The 'JIN' Japan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 433 Wednesday September 26, 2007 TOKYO

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Meet Mr Fukuda

Yasuo Fukuda, the new Japanese PM, is grey, sober, unexciting.
Recently dubbed as the Japanese John Major after the former
British PM, they are both restrained, austere and dare we say
it, boring. Encouraged by a supporter to 'express his
personality,' he merely replied 'I have no personality.' This
sounds similar to another former British party leader, Ian
Duncan Smith, who described himself as the 'quiet man of
politics,' inciting mock “shushing” in the Houses of Commons
whenever the leader tried to speak.

The second Japanese PM in a row to not have been elected by the
nation, critics would say that his government cannot have
legitimacy and would call on a general election to be held by
March 2008. Like Abe his predecessor and Aso his would-be
competitor for the top post, Fukuda is a 'thoroughbred'
political blue-blood and although his career is impressive,
it is hard to find anything spectacular among his achievements
to date.

Other more positive descriptions would say that Fukuda is
reliable, realistic and has undemonstrative good sense. His soft
'dove' approach to international relations may mean more
positive links with Japan’s neighboring countries; this week
we look at some of the key international relationships that he
will have to engage with.

Fukuda has vowed to never visit Yasukuni shrine as long as he is
PM. Koizumi sparked anger and riots in China and South Korea
over his controversial visits to the shrine and during that
time, Fukuda had expressed his private opposition to the visits.
Now, Fukuda has pledged that he will take the issue of Yasukuni
seriously and follow the Abe approach--staying well clear of
angering the neighbors. According to one senior research analyst
at Okamoto Associates, Michael Cucek, the only important issue
between China and Japan was the Yasukuni visits and now that it
is off the tables, relations between the two countries should

Fukuda has shown in his past that he is a keen advocate of
improving relations with China and South Korea. Jiro Yamaguchi,
Professor of Political Science at Hokkaido University, says that
Fukuda will make 'cooperative relations with China and Korea a
little tighter, compared with Abe's nationalistic approach.'
Fukuda is strongly associated with China, heading the support
group for the Beijing Olympics. Although he hasn’t scheduled an
Abe-style 'China Gate-way' trip just yet, he will no doubt
visit the country in the near future.

Although not as strongly associated with South Korea, during
his tenure as Chief Cabinet Secretary under Koizumi, he oversaw
bilateral relations with South Korea during the 2002 World Cup.
Fukuda will remain hesitant to comment on his policy towards
South Korea as Koreans are still waiting to elect a new
government and therefore cannot give specific strategic plans.
Even though Fukuda won with a 63% lead, one issue that lost him
many votes is his “softer” stance on North Korea by starting the
normalization process. He has stated that his policy of dealing
with the volatile state is through a multi-lateral approach.
Cucek argues that the anti-abductees approach taken by Abe was
not effective, isolating Japan in the Six-party talks. Cucek
also thinks that Fukuda would 'want the country to have some
breathing space'-–rather than carrying on Abe’s more aggressive
and hard-line approach to Pyongyang.

It is still unknown what stance Fukuda will take on relations
with Europe. So far, it appears that Abe’s attempts to get
closer to NATO are not on the cards–unless it means that the
deployment of Japanese forces in Iraq becomes more UN based.
We can most likely expect relations to continue with the same
dullness and niceties seen in the past.

One of Abe’s notable achievements during his tenure was to
improve links with Australia and India, often referred to
together with Japan as the 'Arc of Democracy.' During March of
this year, Abe signed a security pact with Howard, which
although seen by many to have more of a symbolic value rather
than any tangible components, did continue to socially
construct this emergent trilateral alliance. The Australian
(an Australian national newspaper) called Abe’s departure
'shattering' after the most actively pro-Australian Japanese
leader of modern times resigned. Canberra must now wait to see
how Fukuda will take over relations.

India and Japan have also been pursuing a much tighter
relationship with security treaties and free trade agreements
being signed. Japanese companies such as Hitachi Ltd and
Bridgestone Corp would have greater access to India—the world’s
second-fastest growing major economy. However, some critics
argue that for Fukuda to continue with this trilateral
relationship would be 'naïve.' All three countries can be said
to view China as a security threat and are weary of rousing
Chinese suspicions. As Fukuda has not specifically mentioned
his policy for Japan’s relations with Australia and India yet,
we can only assume that there will be no major change from Abe’s
(or Koizumi's?) program.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

Southeast Asia will be waiting to see whether the new PM will
revive the Fukuda Doctrine—-a policy adopted by Fukuda Senior to
upgrade ties with Southeast Asia—-focusing more on close ties
with countries such as Indonesia. The doctrine pledged
that Japan would remain a country committed to peace and would
not become a military power, building up trust and mutual
confidence with Southeast Asian countries. Although Japan’s
relations with ASEAN seems unbalanced due to the country’s
greater economic power, Indonesia is positive about Fukuda,
especially as he chairs the Japan-Indonesia Association?

Fukuda will also (perhaps obviously), keep up a strong alliance
with the US. Although some say that he will take a less US-
centric approach, Fukuda has already promised to try for a
continuation of a strategic alliance with the US through the
Indian Ocean counter-terrorism mission in support of US-led
forces in Afghanistan. However, critics say that a concern for
Fukuda would be if the US requires Japan’s support to go further
than what the post-war security treaty/constitution will allow.

Koizumi was Bush’s best friend but, although Fukuda's wife
apparently go on well with Laura Bush when the US President
visited Japan in 2001, it remains to be seen whether Fukuda will
keep up such a strong relationship. He probably leans more
towards a future Democrat president than the fading George W.

Foreign investors faced difficulties during Abe’s government—
Steel Partners being a good example of the difficulties foreign
investors faced in the past year.

Although one of 'Koizumi’s children'(the nick-name given to
ministers committed to Koizumi reforms), Fukuda will not have
the time to fight for more foreign investment as he will be too
busy dealing with internal problems-—namely reducing the
disparities in Japan’s rural areas—-a backlash against Koizumi’s
focus on economic liberalization. Cucek summarizes Fukuda's
predicament as: 'If the country’s economy improves under Fukuda,
then Japan will not like foreign investors coming in. If the
economy goes down, Japan will seek for foreign investors but
foreign investors won’t want to invest. It’s a ‘Catch 22’

Fukuda will be torn between choosing to follow in the footsteps
of Koizumi reforms and carrying out his pledges on rural

Critics of Fukuda believe that he will only last for six months
to a year and believe that his policies will not be thinking in
the long term. 'Fukuda will be more difficult opponent to tackle
than Aso, but DPJ will resist the government in the Upper House
so that national politics falls into stalemate' says Professor
Yamaguchi. It appears that apart from a few divisive issues,
both in the party and nationally, Fukuda is keen to keep
everybody happy--often a short route to failure as Abe found

By Anna Kitanaka


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YMCA Foreign Community Support Committee (FCSC) Charity Ball
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Date/Time: Tuesday, October 2nd - 7:00 pm
Location: Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan
Language: English
Website: http://www.ea-tokyo.com
Email: info@ea-tokyo.com

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