Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Those Fukuda Hugging Pandas and an Apology on the Home Front Help the Prime Minister End the Year on a Moderately Upbeat Note

No, that’s not an insult. It’s a description of the all-out welcome that the Chinese authorities are putting on for the Japanese Prime Minister when he flies there tomorrow (27 December). The host of the welcome dinner has been upgraded from Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to President Hu Jintao (Mr. Wen will host a breakfast instead), and Mr. Fukuda’s speech at Beijing University will be broadcast live all over China.

The Japanese media see this as a Chinese endorsement of the openly pro-China Prime Minister. True, but more specifically, the Chinese authorities realize that if the Fukuda administration collapses, the LDP is not going to let him call a snap election. Instead, the LDP will turn to someone else in its ranks, and the Chinese authorities see Mr. Asō and his minions stalking the outback.

The Chinese are not known for their subtlety; for good or bad, they pour it on. Still, it appears highly unlikely that they will come forth on a meaningful agreement on the East China gas fields. That, if it ever happens, will be reserved for President Hu’s Tokyo visit in the spring.

Mr. Fukuda has preceded his trip with what appears to have been a constructive and at times emotional get-together with six representatives and lawyers of the plaintiffs in the blood-transfusion-induced type C liver cirrhosis law suits, where he offered an apology, promised accommodative legislation, and asked to meet them again next year. Mr. Fukuda, unlike so many politicians, has not allowed public life to coarsen the emotions. There’s a downside to that as well, but for now, it is serving him well. There are still a few details to attend to, and one of them is the scope of responsibility that the state will admit to, a major point of contention*, but having passed the emotional hurdle, the administration, the ruling coalition and the plaintiffs and their lawyers should be able to work out a compromise**.

And on that note, Mr. Fukuda should be able to enjoy a moderately happy New Year’s Day.

* This is an issue that crops up in so many areas, most prominently visible to foreign observers on the history issues. The type C cirrhosis case shows that beyond the political and financial constraints lie legitimate concerns of law. In this case, much of what appears to be political tone-deafness is actually the product of institutional requirements of a constitutional society. And that is why Diet members, and not the Cabinet, will submit the legislation.

** If news reports are any indication, the DPJ is making itself look like something of a sourpuss in the event. It is refusing to talk to the coalition before the legislation is submitted, let alone take part in its drafting. This recalcitrance is understandable, given that Naoto Kan and his colleagues have been on this case for years on the side of the plaintiffs. Still, it should have done more to partake of some of the sense of relief among the plaintiffs.

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