Both declared and undeclared candidates for the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election began making their cases for prime minister Friday in a high-profile panel discussion viewed as a prelude to the Sept. 20 poll.
The discussion, organized by the LDP’s Tokyo chapter, is the first in a series of policy debates that will be held across the country.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, a conservative hawk widely considered the front-runner in the race who has yet to declare his candidacy, participated in the discussion, as did Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, who threw his hat into the ring Thursday.
Foreign Minister Taro Aso, another contender, sent a videotaped message to the discussion because he was attending a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Kuala Lumpur.
During the debate, Tanigaki criticized Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Asian diplomacy.
“What is important is top-level diplomacy,” Tanigaki told the audience, apparently referring to Japan’s soured ties with China and South Korea, centered on Koizumi’s annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the war dead as well as Class-A war criminals.
Abe rebutted Tanigaki’s remarks, saying: “Is it really acceptable that they don’t have top-level talks because we visit Yasukuni?
“It is important for all of us to take a step forward,” he said.
Meanwhile, Aso said in his video message that it is essential for Japan to maintain a firm diplomatic stance, citing as a good example Japan’s U.N. Security Council push to get a resolution to condemn North Korea’s missile launches earlier this month.
Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Kaoru Yosano, who participated in the debate as a representative of lawmakers elected in Tokyo, said the people need to think about what Japan, whose alliance with the U.S. is its mainstay in diplomatic relations, must do to maintain its peace and security.
Abe meanwhile said that for the sake of Japan’s economic growth amid its declining population, the nation must pursue technological “innovation” and “openness” to trade and foreign labor.
Tanigaki stressed the importance of nurturing family bonds and a sense of community, particularly amid growing worries over a wider gap between the haves and have-nots.
Abe and Aso are expected to declare their candidacies in late August, but all three already appear to be in campaign mode.
Abe is touring the country, discussing how to help to people whose careers or businesses fail.
Announcing his candidacy Thursday, Tanigaki pledged to build friendlier relations with East Asian nations and to avoid making contentious visits to Yasukuni Shrine if he becomes prime minister.