ON THE STUMP

Aso, Fukuda address foreign press club

by Masami Ito

Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Taro Aso may be losing to Yasuo Fukuda in the party’s presidential election battle, but he scored a few points over his rival at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Wednesday, using his English-language ability to charm the foreign press.

Both candidates in Sunday’s LDP presidential election to replace Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed at the FCCJ news conference to continue Japan’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.

But while Fukuda reiterated vague policies, Aso seized the opportunity to give a 10-minute speech in English in which he expressed his confidence as a leader.

“Now is the time for Japan to have a strong leader, a reliable leader to lead the machine in Kasumigaseki (where the central government is located) — not (a leader who) is tempted to be led by that very machine,” Aso said, evidently criticizing the political system as overly bureaucratic.

Aso also characterized the election as a battle between “the old LDP vs. the new LDP,” a jab at Fukuda, who quietly garnered the support of most of the LDP factions behind closed doors.

“You saw an old LDP (huddle) overnight; it was like deja vu, bringing me back 20 or 30 years ago,” Aso said.

Fukuda, on the other hand, stressed the importance of regaining public trust in the aftermath of various money scandals and gaffes by Cabinet ministers that have damaged the LDP’s reputation.

“We need to work hard to solve each problem including (erasing) the suspicions that the public has against the government and politicians — and that is how leadership is born,” Fukuda said in Japanese.

Both men stressed the need to extend the special antiterrorism law enabling the Maritime Self-Defense Force to refuel multinational naval ships in the Indian Ocean that are supporting counterterrorism operations.

The Democratic Party of Japan, led by Ichiro Ozawa, has expressed its intention to oppose extending the law, which is set to expire Nov. 1. For the LDP to see the law extended, it must win the cooperation of the DPJ, which became the No. 1 party in the Upper House thanks to its election landslide in July.

Aso stressed that Japan was also a victim of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, in which 24 Japanese were killed.

The antiterrorism law “determined that Japan, as a victim of terrorism, join the United Nations and other countries in the war on terrorism,” Aso said in Japanese during a question-and-answer session. The law “isn’t for the U.S. (The LDP) thinks it is Japan’s duty to fight terrorism.”

Fukuda pointed out that the law was passed when he was chief Cabinet secretary under Junichiro Koizumi, and at that time the LDP and the DPJ were very close to reaching an agreement over the law. In 2001, the DPJ submitted its own version of the bill, stressing that the Diet must approve the dispatch beforehand, but it was voted down by the ruling majority.