OSAKA – Former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, who is expected to run for president of the opposition Democratic Party, brings a wealth of experience and an America-friendly reputation to the race.
Maehara represents the Kyoto No. 2 district in the Lower House, an area in the eastern part of city that includes the famed traditional Gion district and the area around Kyoto University. Though born in Kyoto, he has said Kyoto people don’t recognize him as a “true” Kyotoite because his family has been there for less than 100 years, or three generations.
Throughout his political career, which includes a stint in the Kyoto Prefectural Assembly in the early 1990s before winning his first Lower House seat in 1993, Maehara has had a strong interest in Japan-U.S. relations. A regular visitor to Washington, he is well-known among American experts for his strong support of the Japan-U.S. military alliance and a hawkish stance on China that has put him at odds with other members of the party.
While he was foreign minister between 2010 and 2011 under the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, the predecessor of the DP, Maehara voiced support for relaxing Japan’s weapons export ban, a move that was welcomed by U.S. and Japanese defense firms seeking closer cooperation. He also worked with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who he said reassured him that the Senkaku Islands were covered by Japan’s security treaty with the United States.
Maehara has also said he believes constitutional revision is necessary, although he does not approve of the way Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is handling the debate, which he suggested was a simple appeal to like-minded smaller parties rather than an attempt to achieve a general consensus with the leaders of all the opposition parties.
But Maehara shares the view of many in the ruling party that the role of the Self-Defense Forces, and cooperation with the U.S., can be expanded under a revised Constitution. He is on good terms with former regional revitalization minister Shigeru Ishiba, a likely challenger to Abe for head the Liberal Democratic Party. Both Maehara and Ishiba are against official visits by the prime minister to Yasukuni Shrine and have similar views on defense.
Thus, given Maehara’s views on the Japan-U.S. relationship, his contacts in the LDP, and his past experience as foreign minister when Clinton was secretary of state, he could prove to be an important source of information not only for his party, but also for Abe’s Cabinet if Clinton becomes U.S. president in November.
However, Maehara is running against DP Deputy President Renho, who has the support of its senior leaders as well as two groups within the party, including one consisting of former Social Democratic Party members. It was unclear Thursday whether Maehara could secure the minimum of 20 votes necessary to stand for election, and if he did, how strong a candidate he would be.
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