Two interesting articles in the news today: one story covering Japan and the other Germany. Both are about the future direction of diplomacy in their respective countries.
- Koizumi reshuffles his Cabinet
Three contenders for prime minister handed key posts
Japan Times Online, November 1, 2005
- Germany to retain SPD's foreign policies
Financial Times, November 1, 2005
After PM Koizumi's September 11 sweeping re-election, he vowed to promote people in his cabinet that would further his reforms. Who he has not elevated is almost as key as who he has to compete for position within the LDP for Prime Minister next year.
"Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reshuffled his Cabinet on Monday and gave key posts to three possible contenders to succeed him in the country's top job.
Koizumi's choices raise the curtain on the race of prime ministerial hopefuls that is expected to culminate next September when his term as Liberal Democratic Party president expires.
Koizumi has pledged to step down at that time, which means he also will leave the job of prime minister.
The three anointed candidates for Koizumi's job are deputy LDP Secretary General Shinzo Abe, who was appointed chief Cabinet secretary; Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Taro Aso, who received the foreign minister's portfolio; and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, who has been reappointed.
During a news conference later in the day, Koizumi said his new Cabinet was formed to push his reform agenda further, and hinted that he would not name anyone who does not follow his administrative reform initiatives as a possible successor.
'I don't think anyone who steps out of this reform line will become president (of the LDP),' he said, noting that he formed the new Cabinet to continue with his 'small government' reforms.
'Everyone who joined the Cabinet this time is eager not to stop the reforms,' the prime minister said."
Mr. Koizumi did not elevate a former cabinet member who was expected to repair ties with China if he had been elevated to a new post.
"Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, another politician considered a possible future prime minister, was not given a Cabinet post -- a development observers see as a setback for Fukuda.
He had been expected to try to improve strained diplomatic ties with China if he had been given a key Cabinet post.
In contrast, the appointment of Abe, a conservative with tough positions on North Korea and China, as chief Cabinet secretary could further harden Japan's diplomatic stances toward those countries.
Abe has repeatedly called for economic sanctions against North Korea over the unresolved issue of the abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, while praising Koizumi's contentious visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which has long been a thorny issue in Japan's relationship with China and South Korea.
Abe said he has visited Yasukuni Shrine based on his private beliefs, hinting he will keep visiting the Shinto shrine even in his new capacity."
Mr. Koizumi has reshaped his government in his own reformist image that is mixed with a strong sense of Japanese pride. His picks clearly indicate that Mr. Koizumi views China and North Korea as more than just strategic competitors.
Ms. Angela Merkel, without the clear mandate Mr. Koizumi enjoys, has a government with a great deal more constraints in its foreign policy options. The Financial Times reports:
"Germany's grand coalition will retain the central pillars of foreign policy established by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrat-led government, party officials in Berlin have told the Financial Times.
The SPD and Christian Democratic Union disagree over Turkey's bid for European Union membership, but there will be few big changes in Germany's stance on key issues such as relations with the US or with other EU partners under the coalition.
This was another success for the SPD, analysts said, although the bargaining process was thrown into confusion yesterday by the resignation of Franz Müntefering, SPD chairman.
Despite losing power in September's election, the party has nevertheless managed to block chancellor-in-waiting Angela Merkel's agenda in several areas, including economic reform, and now foreign affairs."
The focus of German foreign policy, according to the article, is on keeping Shroeder's policies alive and not providing a change in tone.
"Both parties said the coalition agreement would emphasise the central importance of Germany's relations with both the US and Nato, and that while Ms Merkel might set new foreign policy accents at certain points, the stress in the next few years would be on continuity."
This may be a big setback for Ms. Merkel. However, she is a bright and capable politician. I suspect that even without control of the foreign ministry, she will have a positive impact on US-German relations.
Nevertheless, the contrast between Mr. Koizumi's position and Ms. Merkel's is considerable. Elections do matter, and the long-term alliance structure between the US and Japan is stronger for the will of the Japanese people than the results in Germany have supported.