Japan Crisis: Aso replaces Fukuda as Premier in US-led Terror Era
By Dr. Abdul
Japan, a land of three thousand islands stretching for about 2,400 km, a constitutional monarchy, a NATO member and collaborator of the US-led terror war in Islamic world and the richest Asian Giant has over the years developed politico-economic crisis leading to exit of its premiers one after another. Less than a year after he took office Japan’s Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda of ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) abruptly announced his resignation on Sept 01 after less than a year in the job, having fought chronic low approval ratings and political deadlock caused by the opposition’s popularity. Japan’s next general election is expected to be in April, but must be held no later than September 2009.
Taro Aso has been elected the new chief of the LDP and would be anointed new premier by next Thursday. Japan’s ruling party members have selected on Sept 22 a bluff conservative, Taro Aso, as their new leader, meaning he is almost certain to become the next PM. Aso received 351 out of the 527 votes cast by MPs and members of regional chapters. Kaoru Yosano, the minister for economic and fiscal policy, trailed in second place at 66 votes. Former defense minister Yuriko Koike, who hoped to become Japan’s first female prime minister, placed third with 46 votes.
The government of Yasuo Fukuda has suffered chronic unpopularity. Lost pension records, a controversial healthcare scheme and a sliding economy have added to his woes. Fukuda has also been frustrated by the upper house of parliament, which is controlled by the opposition. The main opposition Democratic Party (DPJ) made big gains in recent elections and controls the upper house of parliament. At its own convention on Sept 21, the DJP gave another two-year term to leader Ichiro Ozawa.
Last month, Japan’s then Prime Minister, Yasuo Fukuda instigated a major cabinet reshuffle in which one of his main political rivals, Taro Aso, assumed the key role of secretary general. The move was seen as a last-ditch attempt to shore up Fukuda’s government and boost its flagging popularity, but it failed to improve low cabinet approval ratings, which had been below 30% for several months.
The LDP is struggling to combat a long-term slump in public popularity, and early general elections are now likely. The LDP’s recent slump in popularity has led some to suggest that the party could be on the verge of losing power – an almost unthinkable prospect for most of the past 50 years.
Taro Aso went from being a foreign minister to becoming party secretary general under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in August 2007. However, following Abe’s resignation, he left the post and lost the LDP leadership contest to Fukuda soon afterwards. Known for his conservative views, he has advocated a tough line towards North Korea. The 68-year-old veteran is promising greater public spending to try to stimulate the economy – particularly in rural areas, where the party is traditionally strong. Aso advocates greater public spending to promote the economy, and an assertive foreign policy. He overwhelmed his four Liberal Democratic Party rivals for the party leadership in a crowded race. “America is facing a financial crisis… we must not allow that to bring us down as well,” he said.
Before the vote Aso pledged to a crowd of supporters in Tokyo that he would sort out Japan’s economy. Aso called for unity among the five contenders for the LDP leadership, and reports suggest some of them may feature in his cabinet once he is confirmed as the prime minister. Aso’s rival Yosano accused him of risking Japan’s long-term interests through wasteful spending. Other colleagues fear higher spending could mark a return to the old profligate ways of the LDP, where expensive public works projects were used to create jobs, hollowing out the public finances.
A big power, Japan is the world’s second largest economy by nominal GDP, after the USA. It is a member of the UN, G8, and APEC, with the world’s fifth largest defense budget. It is the world’s fourth largest exporter and sixth largest importer. Japan is the second largest financial contributor to the United Nations, providing 20 percent of the UN budget (the U.S. contributes 25 percent).
Japan is a non-nulcear power and is against nuclelarization of international politics. Close cooperation between government and industry, a strong work ethic, mastery of high technology, and a comparatively small defense allocation have helped Japan become the second largest economy in the world, after the USA, at around U.S.$4.5 trillion in terms of nominal GDP and third after the United States and China in terms of purchasing power parity.
However, of late, Japan is now at a crossroads, re-evaluating its place in Asia and world. Japan’s economy is struggling with consumers facing high energy prices and the country’s exporters suffering as the global economy slows. The economy shrank from April to June. In August Japan unveiled a stimulus package worth 11.7 trillion yen ($107bn; £59bn) to boost the country’s economy. The government hopes that the plan will help people cope with rising prices and stave off a recession. The plan only includes 2 trillion yen of fresh government spending, with 9 trillion yen in loan guarantees and aid for small businesses. The package also included discounts on motorway tolls, assistance to farms and help for part-time workers to find better jobs. The rise in Japan’s industrial output, against forecasts of a 0.5% drop, surprised analysts.
For close to five decades after World War II, Japan’s economy grew steadily through policies that closely aligned government and large manufacturers. But after reaching its peak in the late 1980s, Japanese economy began faltering. In 2001 newly elected Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi introduced policies meant to revive the economy through deregulation, privatization, spending cuts and tax breaks. Growth resumed in January 2002 and has turned into the longest economic expansion through the post-war era. But Koziumi’s policies also have brought about a growing income gap in a rapidly aging country. The country’s long-term outstanding debt has also grown, to the equivalent of 147% of annual gross domestic product.
In foreign policy, the rise of China and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions led Japan to actively review long-held policies. After decades of sheltering under the American security umbrella, Japan has begun seeking a more assertive role in the region, even while strengthening ties with the U.S. After the September 11 attacks, Japan dispatched its naval vessels to the Indian Ocean to supply fuel for warships of the coalition forces operating in Afghanistan, and send troops to Iraq for humanitarian assistance, along with planes to transport cargo and American troops.
The Japanese military, which has one of the largest budgets and most sophisticated weapons in the world, began developing their offensive capabilities. Japan also decided to join the U.S. in developing and financing missile defense shield and its defense agency was upgraded to a full ministry in 2007.
Koizumi and his successor, Shinzo Abe, helped win approval of these changes by emphasizing nationalism. Abe, who gained popularity as a Cabinet minister by pursuing the issue of past abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea, took a hawkish stance toward Pyongyang. Abe did mend relations to an extent with China, which became Japan’s largest trading partner in 2004, and with South Korea. Beijing had refused to hold summit meetings with Koizumi because of his visits to the Yasukuni shrine, but Abe remained ambiguous about his stance toward the issue and made a trip to Beijing and Seoul in October 2006, a few weeks after taking office. Abe abruptly stepped down in September 2007. His successor, Yasuo Fukuda, visited China in December 2007, seeking to further improve relations between the two Asian giants.
US-led terror war in Islamic world on fictitious pretexts like WMD, regime change, democracy and Osama has already caused deaths to thousands of innocent Muslims in these countries and tortured many more thousands all over the world. Many countries like India have cleverly utilized the “terror and Sept 11 opportunity to track, torture and kill Muslims in Kashmir and India. Many Muslims are still in jails without trials and they are meted out most inhuman treatment under brutal custody of Indian officials and their henchmen.
Japan as a close NATO ally of USA offers all necessary assistance from cash to weapons toilets to the war fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Tokyo shares equal responsibility with the USA in the killing of Muslims in Islamic world. Abe’s fall clearly signified defeat for Japanese terror war strategy. Aso should better keep in mind this fact as well as he pursues Japan’s policies in future.
Tokyo is yet to admit the domestic crisis as being the fallout of the US-led Terror war in Islamic world. Fall of Abe and Fukuda makes the position of the new incumbent Aso more worrisome and complicated. The previous two prime ministers had to quit after serving just a year each and Aso is expected to continue until the polls next year. It seems the ruling LDP suffers from chronic unpopularity and the new leader is charged with the task of revamping the party and instilling new vigor in the economic agenda.
Aso will face the uphill challenge of steering the Japanese economy away from the brink of recession. The party now hopes Aso’s brash straight-talking style and will prove an antidote to the opposition’s rising popularity. Whether Aso would be able to over the economic pains Japan is facing which his two immediate predecessors Abe and Fukuda failed to tackle, remains to be seen. Speculation is thrilling indeed!
*Edited at ABC