Hosokawa Speech Sets New Path for Japan

Premier sees 'once-in-a-millenium chance,' at cold war's end, to redesign political system

TWO weeks into office, Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa has set out a vision to end Japan's long "political vacuum."

In a policy statement before parliament yesterday, Mr. Hosokawa said he will create a new political structure by year's end aimed at helping Japan deal with such issues as its economic uncertainty and the "scars" left on Japanese politics by the cold war.

"Our more important task right now is that of restoring the popular trust in government," said Hosokawa, who enjoys a high popularity as leader of a seven-party coalition.

Critics quickly pointed out his lack of details, a sign of the wide differences within a coalition quickly thrown together to replace the conservative Liberal Democratic Party this month.

In fact, Hosokawa had not wanted to give this policy speech when he took office on Aug. 9 but was forced to do so in a compromise with the LDP. He was noisily heckled by LDP members during the speech.

"I find it hard to believe that bureaucrats did not write his speech," said LDP President Yohei Kono. The LDP will ask questions of Hosokawa in parliament tomorrow, hoping to split the coalition on divisive issues.

Unlike the LDP, which ruled Japan for 38 years, Hosokawa threw Japan's support behind an extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which expires in 1995. The LDP had waffled on an extension, raising fears that Japan wanted an option to develop nuclear weapons.

And Hosokawa apologized candidly for Japan's wartime past. But his words were toned down slightly from his previous remark that Imperial Japan had engaged in a "war of aggression." The backtracking followed criticism for upsetting war veterans who thought they had been fighting for noble ideals. In a nuanced shift, Hosokawa implied that Japan's aggression was only part of its wartime past.

"I would ... like to take this opportunity to express anew our profound remorse and apologies for the fact that past Japanese actions, including aggression and colonial rule, caused unbearable suffering and sorrow for so many people, and to state that we will demonstrate our new determination by contributing more than ever before to world peace," he said.

Such words played well with the coalition's largest party, the Socialists, who not only wanted a clear apology but also more compensation for many Asian nations occupied by Imperial Japan.

"His words appealed directly to the hearts of the people," says Secretary-General Hirotaka Akamatsu of Japan's Social Democratic Party.

Hosokawa's top priority of political reform was vaguely presented because his coalition partners worry that some reform proposals may lead them to lose seats under a new election system. Parliamentary gridlock over both electoral and campaign reform was a major cause of the LDP's downfall in the past few months.

"These delays in attaining political reform have ... fed political distrust and created a political vacuum, and this has in turn hindered efforts to restore the economy to health and to deal with other important policy issues," Hosokawa said.

The new prime minister, a former LDP governor who left the party last year, claimed that the cold war forced Japan into a "politics of conservative-progressive confrontation" and that it now faces a "once-in-a-millennium chance" for reform.

He was not vague about the corporate "donations" that have been a source of the corruption that marked LDP-led politics for decades. He said such funds would be banned.

Hosokawa also said that a reduction in Japan's huge trade surplus should be done to "improve the quality of Japanese life," in addition to meeting the concerns of the United States and Europe. He wants to deregulate Japanese markets and allow cheaper foreign products to be available to consumers.

He also hinted that an income tax cut was possible in the context of a larger tax review. The LDP had opposed such a tax break for consumers as a way to boost a stalled economy.

"It is time to candidly admit that Japan has so far put its highest priority on economic development and has not paid sufficient attention to improving the quality of life for each and every person or to such aspects as fostering spiritual fullness and achieving social justice," he stated.

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