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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Harvard students meet lawmakers

Staff writer

Some 60 students at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government held separate meetings with up-and-coming Diet members Tuesday for candid discussions on the future course of Japan.

News photo
Democratic Party of Japan President Seiji Maehara gives a welcoming address Tuesday in front of visiting students from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government at DPJ headquarters in Tokyo.

One featured politician was Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, 51, the youngest of the four Liberal Democratic Party politicians widely regarded as potential successors to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who will step down as LDP president in September. Another was Seiji Maehara, 43, leader of the main opposition force, the Democratic Party of Japan.

"Both are thoughtful men," said Andrew Stober of the United States. "Abe was very impressive, as he confronts the issues facing Japan."

The meeting with Abe at the Prime Minister's Official Residence was closed to reporters, but the top government spokesman did his best to answer their questions, which covered a wide range of issues from pension reform and demographic change to security in East Asia, the participants said.

A student from South Korea said Abe's stance on visiting Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead as well as Class-A war criminals, did not come up during the meeting due to time constraints. Koizumi's repeated trips to the shrine have drawn fire from China and South Korea.

"If he (Abe) becomes the next prime minister, there would be no improvement in Japan's relations with South Korea and China," the student said on condition of anonymity.

However, the student also said Maehara was an engaging politician who gave "clear comments" on the party's stance against acts of worship at the contentious Yasukuni Shrine by top Japanese political figures.

But Andre Stein of Australia held a different view, criticizing the DPJ's contradictory stance on national security.

"While Maehara agrees with U.S. (military) protection of Japan, the party is not interested in supporting the allied forces in Iraq," he said.

The Kennedy School nurtures aspiring political leaders worldwide. The students arrived in Japan on Saturday to talk with top business and political leaders, including Bank of Japan Gov. Toshihiko Fukui, and were to leave for South Korea on Wednesday.

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The Japan Times

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