Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Japan, a Tussle at the Top over Maverick Foreign Minister ; Parliament Sabotages Chief Diplomat's Trip to Two Key International Meetings Sunday

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Japan, a Tussle at the Top over Maverick Foreign Minister ; Parliament Sabotages Chief Diplomat's Trip to Two Key International Meetings Sunday

Article excerpt

While other foreign ministers from around the world are headed to two key international meetings, Japan's Makiko Tanaka will be sitting in Tokyo, sidelined by a power struggle with her boss that could spell trouble for the country's ruling party.

To critics, Mrs. Tanaka is erratic - and a troublemaker. But supporters hail her as a reformer who challenges Japan's good-ol'- boy network at the foreign ministry. While many of the country's opinion-makers suggest Tanaka is unfit to represent the country in international affairs, others say she is the victim of a campaign to push her from office through a barrage of leaks aimed at capsizing her political career.

The big question is whether Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will have Tanaka replaced. If he forces her from office, he risks losing supporters along with the woman often ranked as Japan's most popular politician.

"Koizumi has been distancing himself from Tanaka in last few weeks," says Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. "He's not necessarily standing by Tanaka, but now that he's under heavy pressure to fire her, it's very difficult to do that. At the same time, if he insists on keeping her and she causes further problems, his cabinet is going to be destabilized quite a bit."

When he leaped to the country's top position just over half a year ago, Mr. Koizumi had Tanaka to thank, in part. Her public appeal helped draw support from rank-and-file members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and Koizumi rewarded her by giving her the nation's second-most senior position. But now, many say Tanaka has become a liability for Koizumi. Recent newspapers have been filled with embarrassing episodes, from a tiff over not receiving an invitation to an imperial garden party to a failed attempt to dismiss the ministry's head of personnel. Two of the country's major papers have suggested that Koizumi dismiss Tanaka. Bowing to the critics, Koizumi decided this week not to interfere with the Japanese parliament's refusal to let Tanaka speak at Sunday's United Nations' General Assembly meeting in New York. Tanaka will also miss out that day on the Group of Eight (G-8) foreign ministerial meeting; instead, the deputy foreign minister will represent Japan. …

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