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Candidates for Japanese Prime Minister's Job Differ on Foreign Policy

On Sunday, Japan's governing Liberal Democratic Party will choose a successor to Shinzo Abe, who last week tendered his resignation as prime minister. The election will be a head-to-head battle between the conservative head of the party, Taro Aso, and the more moderate former chief cabinet secretary, Yasuo Fukuda. Claudia Blume at VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong takes a closer look at the two candidates, who differ, among other things, on foreign policy issues.

Sixty six-year-old Taro Aso has held several cabinet posts including that of foreign minister, and he is currently the Liberal Democratic Party's secretary-general. He tried to become prime minister twice before, but lost to Junichiro Koizumi, and then to Shinzo Abe.

Aso is known for being brash, outspoken and confrontational. Tomohito Shinoda, a professor of politics at the International University of Japan, says Aso would take a hard-line approach to the issue of North Korea's Cold War abductions of Japanese citizens.

"While he was foreign minister he kept a hard stance against North Korea, and he strongly believes that pressure is the only way to make North Korea to talk to Japan as well as to other nations," Shinoda said.

Fukuda, the 71-year-old former chief cabinet secretary, is seen as a more moderate politician who seeks a diplomatic solution to the abduction issue. Shinoda says the two men's personalities are very different.

"Mr. Fukuda is a well-balanced person who has strong common sense - which many Japanese politicians do not have (laughs)," Shinoda said.

The two politicians also differ in other areas of foreign policy. Rei Shiratori is the president of the Institute for Political Studies, a Tokyo-based research institute. He says the main focus of Prime Minister Abe's foreign policy was a strong relationship between Japan and the United States, and Aso would probably continue this policy.

Aso also favors a self-assertive stance for Japan vis-a-vis East Asia's other economic giant, China.

Shiratori says that while Fukuda also supports strong ties with the U.S., his top priority would be to seek warm relations with China and Japan's other neighbors.

"Fukuda himself, from earlier days, he is trying to strengthen Japan - Asian countries relations. That is the main difference," Shiratori said.

Both candidates have stressed the importance of continuing Japan's mission to refuel U.S. ships in the Indian Ocean, in support of U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan.

But Shinoda says that Fukuda is more likely than Aso to discuss the issue with the opposition Democratic Party, which opposes the mission.