It’s certainly better than committing to visit, and considering that China was content with Mr. Abe’s “neither confirm nor deny” approach to the Yasukuni problem, undoubtedly Beijing is preparing a little party to celebrate if and when Mr. Fukuda is chosen as the next LDP president.
It is still too early to coronate Mr. Fukuda, but there are few obstacles standing in his way. A potential obstacle is the decision by thirty-seven prefectural chapters to hold elections among party members to choose which candidate will receive the chapter’s votes (a kind of electoral college system). This means, of course, that Mr. Aso is not guaranteed to receive the support for twelve prefectural chapters. But it also raises the possibility of an awkward scenario. What if Mr. Aso were to somehow win a resounding victory in the vote among the prefectural chapters? While it seems that such a victory would be mathematically insufficient to best Mr. Fukuda, it would create an awkward situation whereby the parliamentary party would be seen as arrogantly dismissing the interests of the regional party members — who already feel slighted and disaffected, as the Upper House election made clear. What would that mean for Mr. Fukuda’s efforts to unite a broken party? How would Mr. Aso react?
If Mr. Fukuda talks too frequently and enthusiastically about structural reform — as much as it pleases some of us, myself included — this scenario could become that much more plausible.
Then again, voters could fall into line behind the consensus forged in Tokyo behind Mr. Fukuda’s candidacy.
I cannot speak to the probability of these scenarios, but I think it’s worthwhile to consider the possibility that the prefectural chapters could throw a spanner into the works.