Since we all know that polls are the last word in reliability, Yasuo Fukuda supporters can take comfort in last week’s Asahi poll. 53% of voters polled preferred Fukuda as the new Prime Minister, while 21% supported Taro Aso.
Of course, that poll was taken on 15 and 16 September, and a lot can change in the run-up to an election. Fukuda and Aso appeared at Shibuya Station on Sunday to lay out their policy positions for the public, now that they’re the only two remaining contenders for Prime Minister this coming weekend. The Asahi probably has the best overall summary. Both took care to play to the LDP’s rural voting base by promising to address economic inequalities between urban and non-urban areas. (Aso assured voters that he did not support unbridled market liberalization and competition–as if we needed to be told that.)
They also addressed foreign policy:
Disturbed by the serious souring of Japan’s relationships with China and South Korea during the Koizumi era, Fukuda was trying to mend the ties. Abe’s visits to the two countries soon after he came to power have changed the atmosphere between Japan and these countries. But Fukuda appears to be hoping to bring fundamental changes to these important relations.
Aso vowed to promote the “arc of freedom and prosperity” initiative he proposed as Abe’s foreign minister. This initiative is based on the idea of supporting countries that share such basic values as freedom and democracy. But his vision of the “arc” doesn’t include China and is therefore criticized as an attempt to create a network of countries around China to contain the expansion of its regional influence.
Aso seems to be advocating a dual approach to dealing with China that combines dialogue with diplomatic maneuvering to put a brake on its influence.
There’s a transcript of a lecture Aso gave about his “arc” vision here. It might be noted that he doesn’t mention post-Soviet Russia as part of the “arc of freedom and prosperity” either, and in a way it comes off as a more pointed omission than China, because he discusses the democratization and EU membership of the Baltic States and the need for greater stability in Georgia and Ukraine.
The objective is for us to help democracy take root in a region that we envision as an ‘arc of freedom and prosperity,’ extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black and Caspian Seas.
Hmmm…any ideas what we might be arcing around? (He does mention the importance of improved relations with both the PRC and Russia at the beginning.)
North Korea, of course, is one of the biggest issues. The issue of the Japanese abductees is always in play here, and voters liked Aso’s firm line. Fukuda promises to take a more flexible approach:
In Osaka, both candidates addressed the North Korea abductee issue. Fukuda stated, “I want to be the one to solve this problem,” and his indicated that he had resolved to effect normalization of Japan-DPRK relations through dialogue. Aso stated emphatically, “Without pressure, no dialogue will get off the ground.”
Abe’s approach was to patch things up with economic heavy-hitters China and South Korea while taking a hard line toward economic empty set North Korea. It was popular. The abductee issue tends to be back-burnered in favor of nukes at the six-party talks, so Japan has essentially resigned itself to trying to resolve the problem with catch-as-catch-can support from its allies. But I’m not sure there is a resolution. The DPRK has been jerking around the families of abductees (notably poor Megumi Yokota’s parents) for years now. Maybe there is no approach that’s going to get Japan the information it wants.
It wasn’t just Fukuda’s position on the DPRK that came off as dithery; his delivery was shaky, too. Aso was more confident; on the other hand, he hides his lust for power about as well as Hillary Clinton does, and his glee at being in the running for the top spot was possibly a bit too naked. But there are plenty of points that could be scored and lost this week. And as the Asahi notes, neither of them really explained how he planned to work with the newly strengthened opposition parties. For now, Fukuda still has the support of all the major factions.