Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Friday he will discuss the U.S. missile shield plan in depth when he meets with President George W. Bush this weekend.

Koizumi noted that he would focus on differences in the defense policies of Japan and the United States. However, he did not reverse Tokyo’s stance that it understands the U.S. intention to develop a missile defense system.

“There are differences in national security policies between Japan and the U.S. And we hope to frankly exchange opinions in that respect as well,” Koizumi told a news conference a few hours before leaving for Washington.

Koizumi was speaking at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence after the closure of the 150-day regular Diet session earlier in the day.

The leader explained that the U.S. security strategy is aimed at defending not only the U.S. itself but its allies, while Japan must follow its security policy that allows the nation’s forces to fire back only if Japan is fired upon first.

“There’s a considerable gap,” Koizumu said. “But we will do what we can do by uniting (the two nations’) efforts” on the missile defense plan.

Koizumi’s remarks emphasizing the nations’ differing positions came a day after parties in both the ruling and opposition camps urged Koizumi to remain cautious on the U.S. plan, which they said could trigger a global arms race.

Japan has since 1999 joined a joint feasibility study with the U.S. over the U.S.-led Theater Missile Defense system, an overseas-deployed part of the U.S. missile plan.

Those against the U.S. missile plan say that Japan’s participation in the joint study could eventually help the U.S. develop its own missile defense shield over its territory despite Japan’s self-restrictive security policy.

As for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for cutting emissions of global warming gases, Koizumi maintained that he will continue “tenaciously” to persuade President Bush at Saturday’s summit at Camp David, Md, to rejoin the Kyoto agreement. The Bush administration has announced its intention to pull out of the protocol.

On the economic front, Koizumi expressed his determination to carry out the recently approved blueprint on economic reform even if the so-called resistance forces within his party voice opposition after the Upper House election on July 29.

“If some contentious policy issues remain unsolved (before the government maps out the fiscal 2002 budget guidelines in August), I will make the final decision, on my responsibility,” he said.

Koizumi refrained from criticizing recent political rows and blunders involving vocal Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, whose most recent conflict with her Liberal Democratic Party colleague Muneo Suzuki forced the ratification of three diplomatic treaties to be postponed until after September.

“She may be lacking knowledge (on diplomatic issues) but she is a woman of ability,” Koizumi said, adding that he is sure Tanaka will soon build trust with ministry officials and concentrate her full abilities on diplomatic issues.

Koizumi meanwhile brushed aside criticism from within the LDP that his decision-making style is fascistic and dictatorial, claiming that he is merely showing his leadership.

“Some say my style is top-down but it’s not,” Koizumi said. “I am listening to public opinions and reflecting them with my decisions. In that sense, my style is rather ‘bottom-up’.”

Upper House poll set for July 29

The Cabinet formally decided Friday to hold the next House of Councilors election on July 29, with official campaigning set to kick off July 12, government officials said.

This makes the election the latest in any given calendar year since the first Upper House poll held in 1947, surpassing the 1992 poll held on July 26.

Most Upper House polls have been held in June or July.

A total of 121 seats are up for grabs this time around — 73 from prefectural constituencies and 48 in the proportional representation section.

Upper House seats will be reduced to 247 from the current 252, with three constituency seats being cut along with two in the proportional representation section.

Upper House members are elected to six-year terms, with half the chamber’s seats contested in each election on an alternating basis.

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