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Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008

Foreign correspondents probe LDP five on sensitive issues

Staff writer

The five candidates running for president of the Liberal Democratic Party were grilled Friday by foreign correspondents in Tokyo over issues ranging from Yasukuni Shrine to the possibility of having a female vice president.

During a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, Yuriko Koike, the LDP's first female presidential candidate, and Nobuteru Ishihara, the eldest son of outspoken Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, both stated they would visit Yasukuni Shrine if elected prime minister.

Economic and fiscal policy minister Kaoru Yosano firmly rejected going to the controversial shrine, while former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba and LDP Secretary General Taro Aso declined to give a clear answer.

The Yasukuni issue is often used as a barometer of a future prime minister's foreign policy, especially toward China, South Korea and other parts of Asia that experienced Japan's wartime aggression.

Koike, who has the backing of popular former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, declared she would visit the shrine on Aug. 15, the anniversary of the end of World War II. Koizumi had made the same promise, and his visits strained diplomatic relations with neighboring countries.

"I have been visiting the shrine to make a vow to renounce war, to never repeat wars like the Pacific War, which resulted in a tragedy for Japan and other Asian countries," Koike said.

Ishihara, however, brought up the 14 Class-A war criminals enshrined together with the war dead. It is a personal issue for Ishihara, whose grandfather is enshrined at Yasukuni.

"I am deeply troubled by the fact that the leaders of the war, the war criminals, are enshrined together with the war dead," he said. "That is why I have only been there twice."

Aso, the leading candidate and known as a foreign policy hawk, stressed the importance of the Japanese-U.S. alliance regardless of whether Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain moves into the White House.

"Taro Aso is a hawk," Aso said of himself. "I am a hawk if it means I am ready to sacrifice myself for the peace and stability of Japan, to protect the national interest."

Both Aso and Koike expressed concern over the rise in China's military spending over the past 20 years, but Ishiba firmly slammed their views.

The four male candidates were asked whether they would follow the lead of McCain, who enjoyed a burst in support after appointing Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate.

The men answered diplomatically, stressing that they do not judge people by gender but by their capabilities.

"There is only one thing to say — no way would I decide (personnel affairs) based on whether (the person) is male or female," Yosano said.

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The Japan Times

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