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Japan's Prime Minister Candidates Confident on Extending Afghan Mission

19 September 2007

The two candidates to succeed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe played down their differences in a subdued news conference in Tokyo. They say they are confident they can win parliament's approval to extend the Japanese navy's support mission for U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan. Catherine Makino reports from Tokyo.

Yasuo Fukuda and Taro Aso argue that extending the law to allow Japanese ships in the Indian Ocean to provide fuel for U.S. and other coalition forces is crucial.

Opposition parties, which now control the Upper House, are against extending the mission, which expires in November.

But, Fukuda says he is confident he can get the law passed.

He says he and his allies will explain to legislators that the mission is peaceful and that Japan should contribute to the fight against terrorism.

The former chief cabinet secretary added that he spearheaded the original approval of the bill six years ago.

Fukuda says that when he led the passage of the mission in 2001, the opposition party agreed fully with Japan's role in the war on terrorism.

Aso is a former foreign minister and current leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. He expressed a similar view.

Aso said the intent of the mission goes back to the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001. He pointed out that, of the more than 3,000 people who were killed, 24 were Japanese. Aso said Japan has a responsibility to participate in the fight against terrorism, along with the U.S.

Of the two, Fukuda is seen as the leading candidate to succeed Shinzo Abe as prime minister. He spoke of rebuilding Japan's ties with other Asian countries, especially China and South Korea. He has already built a close relationship with top Chinese politicians.

Aso has, in the past, taken a tough stance on China, but he sounded a warmer note Wednesday. He stressed that Japan's ties with China are vital and he gave credit to Mr. Abe for improving China-Japan relations.

Aso added that Japan should pursue its relationships with less developed Asian countries, such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. He said Japan has a "responsibility to help them achieve economic prosperity."

Both Fukuda and Aso also agreed that the U.S. is Japan's most important ally and that the bonds between them are stronger today than ever before.

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