Raw Japan

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A Clinton jinx on ruling party?

February 19, 2009

Japan’s ruling coalition could be forgiven for feeling nervous over U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meeting with the leaders of the powerful main opposition party this week.

The last time a Clinton met Japanese opposition executives, the Liberal Democratic Party lost its grip on power within weeks. That was in 1993, when then U.S. President Bill Clinton attended an embassy reception with politicians including Morihiro Hosokawa, soon to become the first non-LDP premier since 1955.


Hillary Clinton’s Asian tour brought her to Tokyo in the midst of a political storm that could see Prime Minister Taro Aso’s unpopular administration crumble almost as quickly. 

Her lunchtime joint news conference with Japanese foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone on Tuesday, meant to underscore the importance of the bilateral alliance, was overshadowed by a simultaneous event called by Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa, who announced his resignation after a shambolic performance at a G7 news conference in Rome last weekend forced him to deny that he had been drunk.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary called the coincidence “unfortunate”.

Aso is highly unlikely to step down before a scheduled visit to Washington at the invitation of President Barack Obama next week. But once that is over and some stimulus and annual budget bills have been passed, analysts agree pressure on him from within his own party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, will mount.

CLINTON/JAPANEven if he clings to the premiership, Aso must call a general election by October, which current opinion polls show the LDP is likely to lose. Japan’s next prime minister may then be the combative Ichiro Ozawa, who told Clinton in their meeting he wanted to make the U.S.-Japan alliance a partnership of equals.

Whatever the LDP’s fears of a Clinton jinx, HIllary seems to have left a favourable impression on the Japanese media.

Nakagawa’s antics hogged the newspaper headlines, but daytime television shows analysed the details of her visit, praising her for working hard and noting her evident rapport with Empress Michiko, who greeted her for tea at the palace with a kiss on either cheek — an unusual display of affection in Japan.


PHOTO CREDITS: Clinton and Ozawa - REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao, Clinton and Empress Michiko – REUTERS/Pool


The $640 billion dollar question is how many US Treasury bonds can she help sell to Japan this year.

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