After Koizumi: Japan's Future under the Next Prime Minister

Posted in Japan | 02-Jun-06 | Author: Adam Wolfe

As Japan emerges from recession, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is preparing to step down in September. Koizumi followed a series of weak, short-lived leaders to become Japan's longest serving prime minister. His government has presided over the economic revival of Japan's economy, although has done little to fix the budget deficit, and has also seen relations with China and South Korea plummet.

While the course that Koizumi's successor will steer Japan seems fairly clear, who will be at the helm remains uncertain. Japan's economic recovery appears robust -- while some complications can be expected, the period of deflation is over by most measurements. Japan is also asserting itself more forcefully on the world stage as it aims to become a "normal" country with diplomatic influence to match its economic might. Koizumi's successor will likely continue his policies of strengthening Japan's military and pushing for a greater role in multilateral organizations.

Japan, however, also remains isolated diplomatically in East Asia. Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a symbol of Japan's past militarism, have strained relations with China and South Korea, as well as have Japan's territorial disputes with each country. Koizumi's successor will likely attempt a softer approach with Japan's neighbors. China, however, is nervous that the next prime minister will not be delicate enough in discussions of Japan's past. [See: "South Korea's and Japan's Dokdo/Takeshima Dispute Escalates Toward Confrontation"]

Koizumi has not designated who he would prefer as the next prime minister, but there are a few front-runners for the position. The choice is likely to hinge largely on two issues: how best to protect Japan's nascent economic recovery while addressing the gaping budget deficit, and repairing Japan's standing with its Asian neighbors. Each potential candidate is likely to follow a slightly different path, but the general guideposts for Japanese foreign policy after September have already been set.

After Koizumi

Koizumi's term ends in September, and his replacement will be named by the Diet, Japan's parliament, which is controlled by Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party (L.D.P.). None of the likely candidates have publicly declared their intentions to run for the position, but all are privately lobbying for the backing of L.D.P. lawmakers. L.D.P. lawmakers will vote for the next party leader who will then become the prime minister. This makes predicting the outcome of the election more difficult, but four likely candidates have emerged.

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