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Saturday, Oct. 7, 2006
Shiozaki is dovish face of hawkish Abe Cabinet
Yasuhisa Shiozaki, No. 2 man in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet, believes recent efforts to mend strained ties with China and South Korea must be sustained in order to bear fruit.
"No one would think much of an improvement in relations if it does not continue," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki told The Japan Times in a recent interview.
One of the few politicians in the prime minister's close circle of advisers with expertise in both diplomacy and the financial sector, Shiozaki vowed to make the recent brightening prospects for Japan's relations with its neighbors "sustainable."
His remark comes ahead of Abe's visit to Beijing and Seoul for summits Sunday and Monday. Top-level talks with China and South Korea have been on ice for more than a year as the two countries protested the annual pilgrimages by Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, to Tokyo's war-linked Yasukuni Shrine.
The visits fuel suspicion in Asia that Japanese leaders are continuing to justify Japan's wartime aggression. Yasukuni, which was the spiritual center of Japanese militarism, honors the nation's war dead, but more contentiously, several Class-A war criminals.
Abe visited the shrine in April, when he was chief Cabinet secretary, but has so far refused to acknowledge the visit or say whether he will do so in the future.
Despite Abe's reticence on Yasukuni, Shiozaki, a former senior vice minister for foreign affairs and Bank of Japan official, is optimistic that the international community will come to understand.
"It may be a bit hard for people of different cultures to understand (his stance) because it is a matter of belief," Shiozaki, 55, said. "But if Japan can build good bilateral relations in the Asian region, I believe his stance will be understood (by the other nations as well)."
Abe is considered a hardliner on diplomacy, especially toward North Korea. And in his campaign for the Liberal Democratic Party presidency, and hence prime ministership, he emphasized traditional values, "patriotic" educational reforms, and revising the pacifist Constitution. Abe's No. 2 man, on the other hand, brings a liberal, globalist viewpoint to the Cabinet.
In high school, Shiozaki was actively involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement in the late 1960s. He worked for the BOJ for more than 10 years and studied at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, gaining experience in both international politics and finance.
In his newest post, Shiozaki has thus far hidden his dovish side and his remarks have been in tune with those of his hawkish boss.
Asked to comment on Abe's visit to Yasukuni, Shiozaki said the prime minister believes it is natural to honor people who died for their country in war. "I want him to cherish those feelings," he said.
Shiozaki's appointment to such a high-level job is unprecedented, because he has no previous Cabinet experience and has never held a top post with the LDP.
The appointment surprised the LDP's old guard because Shiozaki is not from Abe's former faction. Abe belonged to the faction led by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, while Shiozaki is a member of the faction led by former LDP Secretary General Makoto Koga.
By tradition, the prime minister appoints someone from his own faction as chief Cabinet secretary, given that the two must work closely together.
Many political observers say the surprise appointment shows the close relationship between Abe and Shiozaki, who is known as a reformer and is about the same age as the prime minister.
The two are members of a group of four junior politicians called NAIS (from the last names of its members) who have pushed hard for various reforms. They are Takumi Nemoto, who was appointed special adviser to the prime minister in charge of fiscal policies; Abe; Nobuteru Ishihara, now deputy secretary general of the LDP; and Shiozaki.
Shiozaki has said bureaucrats currently have too much influence on political decision-making. In this, he and Abe are of one mind.
Shiozaki added there are many issues facing Japan that must be dealt with quickly, but because decision-making is controlled by bureaucrats, the process takes too long.
Still, he said Abe does not intend to pick fights with the bureaucracy. "Our goal is to gather wisdom from the bureaucracy and the private sector, whatever it is. It is not to confront Kasumigaseki (the government district in Tokyo)," he said.
As for defense policy, Shiozaki said the government will determine whether there are specific situations in which the country can engage in collective defense.
According to the government's current official interpretation, Japan has the right of collective defense under the Constitution, but cannot exercise that right.