Fukuda offers new brand of diplomacy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2007, 12:00am

PM seeks friendly ties with Asia neighbours

Yasuo Fukuda, making his first policy speech as Japanese prime minister yesterday, said he would focus on friendly ties with Asian neighbours and vowed to support US-led military operations in Afghanistan.

Mr Fukuda, 71, officially took office last Wednesday, replacing nationalist Shinzo Abe, who announced his resignation last month due to a stress-related ailment.

'I will seek out a responsible international role for our country that can win global faith, and make diplomatic efforts to contribute to world peace,' Mr Fukuda said in a policy speech at the Diet, Japan's parliament.

He called his policy 'peacemaking diplomacy' - a change from Mr Abe's 'assertive diplomacy' which included a greater international peacekeeping role and a tough stance toward North Korea.

Mr Fukuda renewed his commitment to continuing Japan's naval mission, supporting US-led military operations in Afghanistan despite strong resistance from the opposition bloc, which tormented his predecessor.

Mr Fukuda, who also promised to keep friendly ties not only with Japan's top ally, the United States, but also with Asian countries, said resolving disputes over North Korea's nuclear programme is 'indispensable for peace and stability in Asia'.

Japan's navy has been providing fuel for coalition forces in Afghanistan since 2001 under an anti-terrorism law that has already been extended three times. The law expires on November 1. Mr Fukuda will face difficulty renewing it because of strong resistance from Japan's main opposition party, which now controls the upper house of the Diet.

Known as a compromiser, Mr Fukuda admitted it would be difficult to push forward policies in parliament after his ruling party's crushing defeat in the July upper house elections following a string of scandals, most of them involving questionable use of political funds.

He apologised for the paralysis parliament has suffered for several weeks following Mr Abe's resignation, and promised to regain public faith in politics and the government.

'I've instructed all ministers to observe the law and ethics, and I will be extra-strict about my own actions,' he said.

Mr Fukuda also promised to establish an equal partnership with China and strengthen ties with South Korea.

Addressing domestic issues, Mr Fukuda said the government would stick to its fiscal target and continue debate on tax reforms, which could include raising the consumption tax rate from the present 5 per cent.

He did not, however, set a deadline on concluding tax reform talks and was vague on what kind of reforms he would pursue in helping rural economies.

Since July, ruling party lawmakers, including Mr Fukuda, have stressed the need to help the countryside, which is struggling after years of painful structural reforms and spending cuts.

Some economists have worried that the new prime minister may buckle to pressure to boost spending in rural areas, despite a persistent budget deficit and high government debt.

Mr Fukuda said the government would aim to meet its fiscal target of bringing the annual budget, excluding debt costs, back into surplus by fiscal 2011-12 through administrative reforms.

Meeting the target is regarded as the first step in reducing Japan's mountain of debt, which stands at about 150 per cent of gross domestic product - the highest among industrialised nations.

Reuters, Associated Press, Bloomberg

Strong start

Yasuo Fukuda is pitching stability after Shinzo Abe's rocky term

In surveys by Japan's four major newspapers, his new government scored approval ratings of up to 60%