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Japan's Problem-Ridden Ruling Party

Interviewee: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, CFR
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria
September 17, 2008

Japan's ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), will hold elections on September 22 (Xinhua) to decide the new party leader who will take over as the country's prime minister. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda abruptly resigned (LAT) on September 1, leaving the LDP scrambling for leadership ahead of a crucial national election to be held before the end of summer 2009. This is the second Japanese prime minister in a row to have quit his post after serving less than a year in office. Fukuda's predecessor Shinzo Abe resigned in September 2007, complaining of a stomach ailment.

Sheila A. Smith, CFR's senior fellow for Japan studies, says the Japanese government is confronted by some very serious issues that will affect them for the next decade. These include the Japanese tax code, the country's social welfare system, and its medical system. "The Japanese government is facing a decade or two ahead of it where the Japanese population is aging and its social welfare infrastructure is badly in need of attention," says Smith.

Discussing Japan's declining role on the international stage, she says:

  • Japanese society is currently very inwardly focused and the country will be too bogged down by domestic concerns to take a more assertive global role in the near future.
  • Japan's alliance with the United States needs attention. Support for U.S. wars in  Iraq and Afghanistan has declined in Japan, and there is increased frustration with the Bush administration over the Six-Party Talks on North Korean denuclearization.
  • The next U.S. president must shift focus from a military alliance toward a more problem-solving partnership in areas such as climate change and anti-piracy.

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