Japan prepares for new PM

Updated: 2011-08-27 09:56

By Cui Haipei (China Daily)

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Frequent change at top rank may have 'negative influence' on ties with China

BEIJING - Japan will soon see its sixth leader in five years as Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced his resignation on Friday after nearly 15 months in office.

Lawmakers with the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) will pick a new leader on Aug 29.

Former foreign minister Seiji Maehara, a 49-year-old expert in defense, is viewed as the front-runner. Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Trade Minister Banri Kaieda are also contenders.

However, Chinese analysts believe the frequent changes in Japanese politics can negatively affect Sino-Japanese ties.

Huo Jiangang, an expert on Japan studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said a short-lived Japanese government may take a tough line on sensitive issues between the two countries to gain public support.

He told China Daily that it remains to be seen what kind of policies the next leader will adopt towards China, adding that Maehara and Noda have staunch opinions over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, over which both China and Japan claim sovereignty - an issue which has from time to time strained ties.

"It's a vicious cycle and I'm not optimistic that the next government could break this structural problem to obtain great progress in boosting bilateral ties, " he said.

Kan stepped down amid plunging approval ratings over his handling of the tsunami disaster and nuclear crisis.

"Under the severe circumstances, I feel I've done everything that I had to do. Now I would like to see you choose someone respectable as a new prime minister," he told a gathering of DPJ lawmakers on Friday.

"I hope to see this party become one, where everyone from the young to the veterans can discuss policy actively and freely, then cooperate and act as one."

Wang Ping, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said none of the current candidates have the capability of dealing with the mess left by Kan.

The successor faces huge challenges, including continued recovery from the March tsunami and nuclear disaster, forging a new energy policy and dealing with a strong yen, which is seen as a threat to the export-reliant economy, she said.

"No matter who takes the seat, it will be a very difficult job," Wang said.

Maehara and Noda have both floated the idea of a "grand coalition" with the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party and its former partner, the New Komeito party, to break the legislative impasse. But both parties have been cool to the idea.

The Mainichi newspaper said DPJ powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa was leaning towards backing trade minister Banri Kaieda, who has distanced himself from Kan's tough anti-nuclear stance.

The 62-year-old Kaieda, who oversees energy policy, recently broke down in tears when he was grilled in parliament over his dispute with Kan about nuclear power.

Rifts over the role of Ozawa - a political mastermind with an image as an old-style wheeler-dealer - have plagued the DPJ since the party swept to power in 2009 pledging change.

But DPJ voter support has sunk as it struggled to implement policies in the face of internal feuds and an opposition able to block bills in the upper house.

The 64-year-old Kan, who pledged in June to step down to survive a no-confidence vote, has seen his approval rating tumble below 20 percent amid a perceived lack of leadership after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which led to meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Reuters and AP contributed to the story.



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