What Fukuda has to look forward to

The LDP presidential campaign is proceeding apace, with substance occasionally intruding into the discussion.

Mr. Fukuda’s remarks on North Korea policy — discussed here — have apparently triggered rumbling on the right, if Sankei‘s editorial today is any indication. Mr. Fukuda is obviously not a favor of Japan’s right wing, not being one of their number and apparently not owing them anything. Labeling him as a proponent of the “dialogue line,” Sankei calls Mr. Fukuda out on the abductions issue, asking him to provide concrete policies that he intends to pursue. The editorial then quotes some past Fukuda quotes on North Korea to show its readers just how soft Mr. Fukuda would be as prime minister. For example: “It is important that we come to embrace a flexible discussion approach.” And: “It is natural that we face a changing international environment. It is likely that tactics will change.” Both these lines sound good to me, but I guess the average Sankei reader — or perhaps just the average Sankei editor — is outraged by such unabashed pragmatism. (Sankei depends to know what Mr. Fukuda means by “changing international situation” and “tactics.”)

Meanwhile, I wonder what Sankei will make of the prospects of better relations with Japan’s Asian neighbors under a likely Fukuda administration. Kim Dae Jung, former South Korean president, has said while on a visit to Washington, DC that a Fukuda cabinet will probably mean a reinvigoration of Japan’s relations in Asia. (I can’t imagine that Sankei is all that pleased about Mr. Ozawa’s December trip to China either. Mr. Ozawa will apparently be taking three charter planes full of DPJ Diet members [fifty in total] and supporters to meet with Hu Jintao.)

The Sankei‘s — and Yomiuri‘s — comments on Mr. Fukuda’s approach to North Korea are a good reminder of what Mr. Fukuda will have to deal with both within and outside the LDP should he be elected party president. He is set to become the moderate, dovish head of a party of unruly hawks who want nothing more than to see Japan slap around North Korea until Kim Jong Il relents. (I think it’s fair to describe Mr. Aso’s North Korea policy as the “slap around” approach.) For the moment, the desire for unity and calm within the LDP is outweighing any concerns about Mr. Fukuda’s ideas, but how long will his honeymoon last should he become prime minister?

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