Miyazawa poised to cap political career Intellectual to lead Japan's ruling LDP

October 27, 1991|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- President Bush's oft-delayed first state visit here will meet up with something new in Japan-U.S. relations next month.

For the first time in recent memory, Japan will have a prime minister who speaks his mind plainly and can do it in elegant English.

The governing Liberal Democratic Party will assure that today when it crowns Kiichi Miyazawa's five decades in government by electing him its president, and thus prime minister-designate.

"The Americans are going to know just where they stand, which they've always said they wanted, but they're not always going to like it," said a foreigner who has been on the other side from Mr. Miyazawa in negotiations.

In his mental depth, his decades of experience at age 72 and his rank as head of a main LDP faction, Mr. Miyazawa will be the opposite of the outgoing prime minister, the youthful-looking Toshiki Kaifu, who was highly popular but often seemed to be learning policy on the job.

But whether Mr. Miyazawa will fare much better than Mr. Kaifu -- in domestic politics or in making policies stick -- is a separate question.

Japanese and foreign commentators wonder out loud whether Mr. Miyazawa -- despite a family that includes a father and a grandfather in high national offices and a career that has included every powerful job in the Cabinet -- loves politics enough to get the job done.

A diminutive and clear-voiced intellectual, Mr. Miyazawa has surprised officials in Beijing with his classical Chinese, publicly debated world affairs in English with Henry A. Kissinger and stunned U.S. negotiators by surgically dissecting their arguments.

But in a party that lives by consensus, Mr. Miyazawa has been called "the Lone Ranger of the LDP" for making decisions on his own.

"His weak point is politics itself," said Shizeki Maruyama, a lifelong campaign worker in Mr. Miyazawa's constituency. "He should have been a professor."

Mr. Miyazawa's tongue can be as sharp as his mind, and it often costs him.

In separate references years ago to two LDP power brokers, recounted by Japanese magazines last week, he reportedly called Noboru Takeshita "a dangerous amateur" as finance minister and said that he "would like to sink Shin Kanemaru in the river."

This month, when Mr. Miyazawa won the support of their LDP faction -- and with it the prime ministership -- they made it plain that they backed him only because they had no candidate of their own.

An equally open question is his attitude toward the United States.

"The Occupation after World War II left Japanese of his generation with all kinds of tangled emotions about the United States, from resentment through gratitude, and Mr. Miyazawa is no exception," said the foreigner who has negotiated with him.

In his recent memoirs, Mr. Miyazawa recalled his Occupation service as a rising Ministry of Finance bureaucrat, a few years out of prestigious Tokyo University.

"Honestly speaking, the Japanese Finance Ministry was being bullied" by New Deal visionaries who were determined to remake the country, he wrote. "I have to admit I wanted to get back at them."

He got his chance in 1950, on a mission to Washington with Hayato Ikeda, then the finance minister.

Unknown to the U.S. headquarters in Tokyo, they successfully proposed a peace treaty directly to the State Department, thereby closing down the Occupation itself years sooner than anyone expected.

Mr. Miyazawa has since headed the Ministry of International Trade and Industry amid the export drive that made Japan the world's fastest-growing major economy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when Asia's diplomacy was being reshaped by a rising China-U.S. relationship, and the Ministry of Finance when the United States was demanding that Japan rely less on exports.

Three years ago, Mr. Miyazawa's hope of ever being prime minister seemed to die amid the Recruit stocks-for-favors scandal.

Throughout the fall of 1988, Mr. Miyazawa repeatedly was called before the Diet (parliament) and forced to make change after change in his version of a huge stock transaction involving his political staff.

By December, his incessantly shifting versions had been hopelessly compromised, and he resigned as finance minister, the first Cabinet-level victim of the scandal. By the next spring, the rest of the Takeshita Cabinet collapsed when the prime minister himself resigned.

Determined to recover his chance at the prize, Mr. Miyazawa plunged into Japan's equivalent of the rubber-chicken circuit, pressing the flesh and speaking at fund-raising dinners for lesser-known politicians in an almost American-style campaign that left some commentators speaking of "the new Miyazawa."

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