Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 21:43 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 21:43 | SYDNEY

Taro Aso: Koizumi plus


Malcolm Cook

2 September 2008 14:46

After getting over the surprise of Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda’s sudden resignation so soon after a Cabinet reshuffle (come to think of it, Abe’s resignation was also sudden and came soon after a Cabinet reshuffle), I thought immediately of what an Aso prime ministership might mean for Japanese foreign policy (Aso having been a colourful and controversial foreign minister under Abe, and now the favourite to succeed Fukuda).

First, unlike both Abe and Fukuda, I think Aso might have a good chance of staying prime minister for a while, as he is personally quite popular and charismatic, and at 67 is much more tested than Abe (who failed his leadership test quite spectacularly). Also, like Koizumi, he can provide the long suffering Japanese polity with a message of hope and renewal.

Second, I think Japanese (and LDP) politics is still in the post-Koizumi recovery stage. Within the LDP, Abe ran as the heir to Koizumi but as a softer, less confrontational one (especially towards China and South Korea) — ie. 'Koizumi light'. Fukuda took over from Abe as a 'safe pair of hands', bringing the LDP and Japanese politics back to pre-Koizumi days.

Aso ran and lost against Fukuda as a 'Koizumi plus' candidate, taking a stronger line than Koizumi on strengthening the US alliance and on China as a strategic competitor and even threat to Japan. As foreign minister, Aso came up with the idea of Japan leading 'an Arc of Freedom and Prosperity' of major democracies stretching from India to Indonesia to Australia and Japan (not a good choice of words for Japanese foreign policy, given the failure of its last arc of 'co-prosperity’). China, of course, was not included in this Arc, nor were Russia or South Korea. Aso’s idea seems to ring true with John McCain’s idea of a 'league of democracies' in the Asia-Pacific.

If Aso does become prime minister and stays around for longer than either Abe or Fukuda and McCain were to become president, then Japan and the US may focus on a 'values-led' foreign policy in Asia organised around support for democracy and democracies, something that would undoubtedly stoke Chinese fears of containment. This could make Australia’s position in the Washington-Tokyo-China-Canberra strategic square more challenging.