Who is Fukuda Yasuo?

Another day has passed, and it looks ever clearer that Fukuda Yasuo has cemented enough support to ensure his victory in the Sept. 23rd LDP presidential election. As this Asahi article notes, Mr. Fukuda has apparently gained the support of 298 Diet members, which is well over the necessary 264 votes he needs to win. (The total number of votes in the election is 528, divided between 387 Diet members and 141 prefectural chapter representatives [three from each prefecture].) Mr. Aso is trying to stay in the race by making up lost ground in the regions so to reverse Mr. Fukuda’s momentum, but talking about the aged, the sick, and the left-behind, while important, will probably not be enough to reverse the flash flood that has all but drowned Mr. Aso’s campaign.

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.

4 thoughts on “Who is Fukuda Yasuo?

  1. Bryce

    Fukuda is favoured for his ability to manage: part of the reason that he was given the job of formulating and expressing the government\’s post 9/11 position was – as Shimoda also noted – that MOFA was in a mess. After Tanaka left, Kawaguchi was also not considered reliable enough to handle the job. In that sense, Fukuda is a \”fixer\”. He deals with other people\’s problems without pushing his own agenda. That\’s just what the LDP needs right now.An update for your post: 福田康夫元官房長官は14日夜、日本テレビの番組で首相になった場合、靖国神社に参拝するかどうかを問われ、「参拝することは、おそらくないと思う」と答えた。(Today\’s Asahi)I think I asked Fukuda about Yasukuni in December. I\’ll have to go back to my tapes to see what he said then.


  2. Anonymous

    Agree with most of your article on Fukuda Yasuo. One thing you forgot to mention was his health. In his early seventies, Fukuda has been reported to suffer from some unspecified health problems for which he had ruled himself out during the contest to succeed Koizumi.


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