Newly appointed Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda hinted Friday that Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori should not have revealed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair a proposal made in 1997 to Pyongyang concerning Japanese allegedly kidnapped by North Korea.
Mori stirred up controversy by telling Blair last week that a 1997 ruling coalition mission to North Korea suggested that Pyongyang could return the Japanese by pretending to have found them in other countries.
During his first news conference after being appointed, Fukuda said, “It can be said that (Mori) could have avoided making such a statement.” He added, however, that he does not believe the prime minister’s action caused a serious problem.
Fukuda also said subsequent comments that caused a media hoopla over the issue were “slightly wrong,” hinting that Mori’s administration may have handled the blunder poorly.
Fukuda’s predecessor, Hidenao Nakagawa, who stepped down earlier in the day over scandals pertaining to his alleged extramarital affair and suspected ties with a rightist figure, has been criticized for inconsistencies in his explanation of the 1997 proposal to North Korea.
Fukuda, a 64-year-old businessman-turned-politician, is the eldest son of late Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda. While serving as a secretary to his father, Fukuda worked with Mori when Mori was a deputy chief Cabinet secretary.
In the news conference, Fukuda said he will do his job in “all sincerity” as the government’s top spokesman.
“In the middle of an ongoing Diet session full of important bills, even a moment of pause cannot be allowed,” Fukuda said. “My responsibility is very grave in this situation, but I will do my best.”
Fukuda will also serve as head of the Okinawa Development Agency and state minister in charge of gender equality programs — posts previously held by Nakagawa.
He will preside over a committee comprising the central government and local governments in Okinawa to discuss a planned new airport to take over the heliport operations of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station.
Fukuda is regarded as being well-versed in foreign policy, as he once served as parliamentary vice minister in the Foreign Ministry and headed the Foreign Affairs Division of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Fukuda said Mori telephoned him Thursday night to ask him to take the position.
“I decided to accept (Mori’s offer) after two phone calls from him,” Fukuda said, adding that he was reluctant at first. “It is impossible not to accept it when you are desperately asked by the prime minister to do so.”
This is his first Cabinet post, and it is almost unheard of for a lawmaker with no previous Cabinet portfolio to serve as the chief Cabinet secretary.
Fukuda will no doubt pick up a lot of experience quickly as the fallout from all the scandals continues.
Fukuda was selected after an LDP faction led by Mori but currently run by former Health and Welfare Minister Junichiro Koizumi reviewed his “personality, talent and experience.”
Fukuda is known for his calm and trustworthy character.
A graduate of Waseda University, also Mori’s alma mater, Fukuda became his father’s secretary after working for an oil company for 17 years. He was born in Tokyo but was elected to the House of Representatives four times from a constituency in Gunma Prefecture.
He also heads the Japan-Sri Lanka Association, based in Tokyo.
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