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The other new guy: Japan's Koizumi

Koizumi and the other G8 leaders will be getting to know each other better  

By CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley

LONDON, England (CNN) -- As the new man in the White House attending his first G8 summit, George W. Bush can expect to be a focus of attention in Genoa. But he may be rivalled in the publicity stakes by Junichoro Koizumi, who is bringing a new style to the post of Japan's prime minister.

Koizumi, who has already glad-handed his way through Washington, London and Paris, was the surprise victor of the Liberal Democratic Party's leadership election in April. And already back home he has become a personality cult figure with his carefully dishevelled hair and, for a Japanese politician, his remarkably unbuttoned style. People rush out to buy suits like his.

His published works, with such titles as "Reasons to reassemble the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications," may lack catchy titles, but he claims to be a heavy metal music fan. And he has declared of his burgeoning political support: "It's like pent-up magma that's erupted. It feels like the Earth is shaking."

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Koizumi is one Japanese politician who does not take his line from the bureaucrats. With an Upper House election due in weeks in Japan, he needs to cut a dash on the international scene. His fellow G8 leaders will be intrigued to see how he measures up to his pledges to reject the LDP's traditional factional politics and economic half-measures.

As has become the custom at G8 summits, Japan will be under pressure to sharpen its policies to avoid another recession, counter deflation and push through structural economic reforms like deregulation. There will also be more calls for Koizumi to make his country's institutions more transparent.

With Japan's moribund economy worrying them all, G8 leaders will be looking for evidence that the new prime minister will live up to his promises to cut public spending and force Japanese banks to write off their massive bad loans.

But with environmental concerns likely to surface in Genoa, there is disappointment among European leaders that Koizumi has not listened to the entreaties of an EU mission to Japan to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, despite its rejection by Bush.

A spokesman for Margot Wallstrom, the EU environment commissioner, conceded: "The Japanese have indicated that despite the fact that they share the Kyoto targets and they want the protocol enforced by 2002, they are not, at present, willing to conclude the deal without the U.S."

When he was in Washington earlier in July, Koizumi said: "I am not disappointed by President Bush's decision. He is enthusiastic about environmental issues and there is still time to discuss this issue."

Koizumi is not the first Japanese prime minister in modern times to come to power with a reforming agenda. Morihiro Hosokawa did so eight years before him. But he left the Liberal Democratic Party, tried to go it alone and found his government collapsing.

Koizumi has his enemies, not least the supporters of Ryutaro Hashimoto, who had been expected to win the post. But Koizumi is not only staying with the LDP, he is its president. His G8 counterparts are likely to reckon it is well worth getting to know the new-style Japanese premier.

• Koizumi elected as Japan's new PM
April 25, 2001
• Race for Japan's leadership
In-depth Special

• Official Genoa G8 site

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