Kiichi Miyazawa Could Make His Mark By Talking Back

Although he won't be formally elected until Oct. 27, Kiichi Miyazawa is already acting like Japan's Prime Minister. On Oct. 15, for instance, he stopped by the shabby offices of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's Komoto faction in central Tokyo to sketch out plans for his coming two-year term. Miyazawa, whose selection by the LDP is virtually certain, told assembled pols he wanted to beef up Japan's international clout while stimulating the flagging economy. The Komoto stalwarts liked what they heard. "It's about time to change the monetary and fiscal operation of the economy," said legislator Tetsuo Kondo.

While Japan's political system makes even the most powerful Prime Ministers weaker than their counterparts elsewhere, Miyazawa may turn out to be the most forceful spokesman for Japan in recent memory. He's certainly likely to make more of a mark than his politically impotent predecessor, Toshiki Kaifu. Miyazawa, who has held all the prestigious Cabinet posts, from finance to foreign affairs, can match President Bush as an internationalist and is well-regarded in Washington. The new Prime Minister will play a key role in redefining the U. S.-Japan relationship, which many Japanese want put on a more even footing in the aftermath of the cold war. "He'll try hard to influence other countries by using our economic power," says Takeshi Sasaki, political science professor at the University of Tokyo.

BULGING SURPLUSES. Miyazawa may try to use massive aid to win back the disputed Kuril Islands from the Soviets. He'll also use offers of economic help to try to ease tensions with North Korea. And he may team up with the Foreign Ministry in pursuing Japan's cherished dream of a permanent seat on the U. N. Security Council and a bigger voice at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Miyazawa's first big test will come when Bush visits Japan this fall, just before the highly charged 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Bush will likely warn Miyazawa about congressional anger over Japan's bulging trade surpluses with the U. S., which hit a record $9.8 billion in September. Miyazawa will respond with an offer to help recycle the surpluses by pumping more money abroad in the form of aid and investment. But he's not going to follow Kaifu's example and let Bush relegate him to signing checks. And he won't let the Americans push him around on trade issues. "He might even argue with Bush," says Yasunori Sone, a political scientist at Keio University. "That's something an American President would never expect from a Japanese Prime Minister."

Miyazawa won't have such an easy time distinguishing himself at home. Despite his seniority, Miyazawa, 72, isn't popular with most LDP politicians,

who consider him aloof and pedantic. "In domestic politics, Miyazawa will be in a similar situation to Kaifu," says Mayumi Moriyama, an LDP member of the Upper House. Miyazawa will be dependent on the faction led by former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, which has dominated Japanese politics for years. Takeshita men will probably claim several key ministries--including finance, the most powerful.

Such arrangements could complicate the Keynesian Miyazawa's ability to nudge the conservative finance bureaucrats toward more stimulative policies, which are favored by the U. S. But with Japan's growth projected to dip below 3% next year, Miyazawa may make some headway in speeding up the $3.3 trillion in sewers, parks, housing, and other projects slated for this decade. Big spending could be the ticket to mollify an electorate angry over the ouster of the popular Kaifu. But, like Bush, Miyazawa is more likely to leave a mark internationally than at home.