And yet for a man about to become Japan’s prime minister, it is unclear exactly what to expect. As Jun Okumura wrote, “It’s remarkable how little I know of Mr. Fukuda’s views.” And if he doesn’t know, well, then Mr. Fukuda truly is an enigma. (Jun, you’re forgiven for referring to him by his father’s name — until he declared his candidacy, I had to remind myself constantly that Yasuo is the son, Takeo the father.)
Mr. Fukuda, now trying to sound prime ministerial, has given some hint as to what his priorities will be. “Mr. Koizumi’s way of structural reforms is right. Continuing reform is a major premise.” On foreign policy, he noted that a concern for him is “how to strengthen relations with Asia on the foundation of the US-Japan alliance.”
One thing that might be worth considering is that Mr. Fukuda is by no means an old-style LDP politician, even though his victory, should it happen, will depend on the vicissitudes of faction politics. In fact, he did not enter the Diet until 1990, when his father retired, although he had worked as his father’s secretary during the latter’s time as prime minister. This means that Mr. Fukuda entered the Diet only three years and one election before Mr. Abe, who is almost twenty years younger. He too, like Mr. Abe, is set to rise to the premiership without extensive service in the cabinet. Unlike Mr. Abe, however, he is older, wiser, and his record 1259 days as chief cabinet secretary mean that he has a deep knowledge of the workings of the government. He is, as Tomohito Shinoda makes clear in Koizumi Diplomacy, a committed centralizer. Mr. Fukuda coordinated the Koizumi government’s response to 9/11 and managed the passage of the anti-terror special measures law. Under Fukuda’s watch, Shinoda writes, “…There was a power shift from MOFA to the Kantei in the area of foreign and defense affairs, which is a desirable phenomenon. The emergence of the Kantei…has made it easier for the prime minister to exercise leadership.” (85) Mr. Fukuda obviously does not deserve all the credit for this development; indeed, former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko might be the most responsible for the shift in foreign policy making power away from MOFA at the start of the Koizumi cabinet. But Mr. Fukuda helped execute a drastic shift in policy making power to the Kantei, and I would be surprised if he would be overly deferential to the input of LDP policy making organs and the bureaucracy as prime minister.
Mr. Fukuda clearly comes to the job with a certain proficiency for foreign policy — in other words, neither Mr. Fukuda nor Mr. Aso is campaigning on the basis of concrete plans for the Japanese economy. But as the above statement suggests, the personal animosity between Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Fukuda clearly does not extend to the realm of (domestic) policy. As for foreign policy, unlike Messrs. Abe and Koizumi, Mr. Fukuda will not only not go to Yasukuni Shrine, but he might even come out and say that he will not go to Yasukuni Shrine. (He’s also a vice-chairman of the Diet member’s association in support of the Beijing Olympics, an organization headed by Kono Yohei, and featuring a number of reputed LDP “doves” as vice-chairmen. ) He is clearly not one to prioritize ideological gestures over good and proper policy, meaning that from the start he could not possibly be as miserable a prime minister as Mr. Abe. He has also inherited an interest in maintaining sound relations with Asian powers from his father — author of the Fukuda Doctrine.
In some way, a Fukuda cabinet could be like rewinding the clock to the early weeks of the Abe cabinet, when people were hopeful that Mr. Abe would both restore balance to Japanese foreign policy by concentrating on Asian diplomacy and preserve Mr. Koizumi’s emphasis on structural reform.
Unfortunately for Mr. Fukuda, it is no longer October 2006: the LDP’s fissures have been laid bare, the DPJ has been calling the tune on the policy agenda, and relations with the US are troubled. He will likely be able to calm some of the tension with Washington, even if he will find it difficult, if not impossible, to give the US what it wants on the anti-terror legislation. His moderation may also serve to embarrass the DPJ before the public, making Mr. Ozawa’s aggressive campaigning for an early election look inappropriate given the new mood that Mr. Fukuda would likely convey. But I don’t expect him to solve the urban-rural dilemma facing the LDP.