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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #378: January 11, 2007

Yamasaki's Pyongyang Trip Draws Flak

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Yamasaki's Pyongyang Trip Draws Flak
Japan Times


Mr Yamasaki is reportedly still in Pyongyang at this time, and so far there have been no reports as to what he is doing there. Supposedly a big figure in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Mr Yamasaki has been recognized as one of those who are "lax" toward North Korea, as opposed the stance adopted by Prime Minister Abe, who used to lead the government team in an effort to bring back Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.

The article, along with similar reports from other sources, says the government, by Mr Abe himself as well as the Chief Cabinet Secretary Mr Shiozaki, has formally expressed distaste for Mr Yamasaki's visit. It is in fact difficult to assume any progress can be achieved from the talks between Mr Yamasaki, without any official status in the government, and an officer of the North Korean government even if it were the dictator himself.

Accordingly, the real objective of the visit may be elsewhere.

The timing of the report on Mr Yamasaki and his trip cunningly coincides with Mr Abe's first tour in Europe after becoming the Prime Minister. Mr Abe has already met with Tony Blair in London and recent reports cover his meeting with Angela Merkel in Berlin.

The problem is that Mr Abe's trip does not even appear in the front pages of media in Japan. The front page is occupied by such events as Mr Yamazaki's visit, and scandals by the ministers - mentioned below.

Recent polls show Mr Abe's supporters are decreasing at an alarming pace. Aside from the policy decisions - or non-decisions - he has made, his administration of the government, the ministers and other senior officials, has been accused of being careless, and to some extent, irresponsible.

The first incident surfaced in December when Masaaki Honma, then the government's Tax Commission chief had to resign because of the public housing scandal. He was said to have been using an official house where he apparently had no authority to, and that to let his mistress to live there. A married man girlfriend is a personal affair, but letting her use an official house intended for the convenience of senior officials so as to have their jobs smoothly carried out was - obviously - considered to be another matter.

Then came a sequence of scandals for the ministers assigned by Mr Abe. They all relate to the accounting reports required to be submitted by their political organizations.

Late in December, the State Minister in charge of administrative reform Genichiro Sata had to quit after admitting his political supporters' group had engaged in inappropriate accounting of office expenses. Then, in the last few days, the statements submitted by Farm Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka and Education Minister Bunmei Ibuki are reported as being "shady," though at the moment the facts are vague.

The charges, especially against those on Messrs Matsuoka and Ibuki, may turn out to be groundless. But the ambiguity is enough for the Abe government to experience another round of image deterioration, further losing the support by the people.

Whatever Mr Yamasaki's real intentions in making a trip to North Korea, in the political language it is an act interpreted as explicitly challenging the PM's policy, which indicates the possibility of Mr Abe losing the control of his LDP.

The former PM Mr Koizumi had a bunch of political opponents within the LDP, but he was able to stand firm on his policy agenda backed by the support of the people. Now that Mr Abe is losing popularity, and, partly because of that he is losing his grip on the members of his party, he could be heading into rough waters. It may be amusing to watch as a struggle for power, but as there are so many issues pending, a political confusion is the last thing Japan needs now.

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