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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

NOVEMBER 5, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 44

J A P A N:
Noda Seiko
Shii Kazuo
Watanabe Yoshimi

Noda Seiko
Born 1960
A new breed of politicians and activists are ready to break the shackles of the past, here listed by country:

The People Power Century
Combining idealism and pragmatic political instincts, these leaders are repudiating politics-as-usual

Hong Kong Leung Chun-ying

India Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Chandrababu Naidu

Indonesia Andi Mallarangeng, Munir, and Emmy Hafild

Japan Noda Seiko, Shii Kazuo and Watanabe Yoshimi

Malaysia Hishammuddin Tun Hussein and Lim Guan Eng

Philippines Manuel Roxas II and Michael Defensor

Singapore Teo Chee Hean and George Yeo

South Korea Choo Mi Ae, Kim Min Seok and Nam Kyung Pil

Taiwan Ma Ying-jeou and Chen Shui-bian

Thailand Chaturon Chaisang and Abhisit Vejjajiva

Business & Finance
Journeying Beyond the Crisis
Born amidst unparalleled prosperity and tempered by adversity, a new generation of business leaders is poised to take the region to new levels of success in banking, commerce and industry

Ohmori Satoru for Asiaweek

Noda Seiko is a face of change in the stodgy world of Japanese politics. Among the qualities that set her apart from the pack: she is technology-savvy, she is young and, well, she is a she. Within her two terms as legislator for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), she has indelibly made her mark. When Noda was named posts and telecommunications minister in July last year, she became Japan's youngest cabinet member ever. This is especially notable given the position's importance and since she had not served the usual five terms in the Diet before becoming a minister. Despite her open support of his rival for the premiership, Obuchi Keizo was compelled to appoint her to the position because of her profile and experience. Under Hashimoto Ryutaro, she was a vice minister of the agency.

While she was in charge of posts and telecommunications, Noda wasted no time in ushering in reforms to help more Japanese access the Web. She pushed through a radical deregulation of telephone-services pricing to make access to cyberspace more affordable. The new generation of Japanese students have Noda to thank for getting national budget funding to hook all public schools to the Internet. Noda's interest in these issues stems from the simple fact that she uses technology - a skill very few senior lawmakers can lay claim to. She is a devout e-mail user, has been an enthusiastic online shopper and is almost never seen without her notebook computer. "I knew what was badly needed," she says. Noda left the post last month following the usual cabinet reshuffle to allow other lawmakers the chance to become ministers, a privilege for which Diet members often wait decades. Last month, Noda returned to her duties as an MP.

Her seat in the Diet, representing the central city of Gifu, was once occupied by her late grandfather, an influential conservative lawmaker. In 1987, his former supporters lured her out of a career with the Imperial Hotel and into politics. At 26, she became a local prefectural assembly member. Wanting to make a real difference in Japan, she ran for a Diet seat in 1990. Her slogan: "From Zero to One" - a reference to her aim of becoming the first female LDP member in the Lower House. She lost that election but triumphed three years later. Asked if she would like to become Japan's first woman PM, Noda says: "It is not only a matter of personal effort." She thinks timing and luck play a role. But first, there is something else she'd like to be: foreign minister.


Matthias Ley for Asiaweek
Shii Kazuo
Born 1954
And you thought all communists were humorless, dour-faced apparatchiks. Meet Shii Kazuo, the piano-playing, Schubert-loving secretary of the reborn Japanese Communist Party. The JCP has lately been making inroads electorally - no mean feat in a strictly capitalist society - and Shii is one of the prime reasons. As No.2 in the party hierarchy, the 45-year-old lawmaker has been replacing the dogmatic, self-righteous image of the old JCP with his flexible, easy-going style (which has earned him female fans who scream "Shii-san!").

Under his leadership, the JCP has been doing what was once unthinkable. In 1996, Shii made news by visiting the headquarters of the Liberal Democratic Party, the JCP's deadly enemy, to discuss how to break a deadlock in the Diet. Union leaders, the backbone of JCP support, have been asked to rethink their opposition to layoffs. Party leaders have even promised not to immediately abolish the military alliance with the U.S. should the JCP come to power.

This doesn't mean Shii, a second-generation communist, has totally gone mainstream. He still sees deep structural defects in Japan's financial, economic and social systems. "The capitalistic structure is not going to last forever as it is," he says. "I would like to present a constructive alternative for Japan in the 21st century." In the meantime, he indulges in his passion: listening to and playing classical music. "Music belongs to a world other than that of words," he says. He enjoys Bach, Schubert and Shostakovich, and he never goes to bed each night without first practicing on his piano - which has a silencing device. That's probably music to his neighbors' ears.


Ohmori Satoru for Asiaweek
Watanabe Yoshimi
Born 1952
Someone meeting Watanabe Yoshimi for the first time might think he has met him before. In outlook and charm, the energetic Japanese lawmaker resembles his late father, former finance and foreign minister Watanabe Michio. Yoshimi is one of many second-generation lawmakers around the Diet who inherited the established campaign machines of their fathers. But, unlike many others, Watanabe has made a name for himself on his own.

The 47-year-old has become the Liberal Democratic Party's key man on finance issues since his Diet debut in 1996. When Yamaichi Securities went under in 1997, Watanabe was among the first to understand the significance for the Japanese financial system, which was beginning to falter under bad loans. He quickly proposed the government rescue banks by buying their stocks and putting them into a recapitalization fund. The idea sparked a bail-out debate in the Diet, and eventually led to a plan that eased the way toward recovery.

Watanabe also drew attention for his "Great Viagra Operation," which was intended to jump-start the economy by prompting the central bank to buy government bonds. The proceeds of the sale would then be used to purchase deflated assets like properties and bad loans. That idea lost momentum as the economy began picking up this year, but Watanabe has many more. "I have a clear vision about what I should do when I become prime minister of Japan," he says .

Indeed he does. For one thing, he wants to change the constitution to clarify and strengthen Japan's defense role. He sees it in terms of a collective strategy with the U.S. - he stops short of nationalist notions that the country should go it alone or arm itself with nuclear weapons. He's also an ardent supporter of a proposed Asian Monetary Fund. "We need to build a system in the region that won't rely on the U.S. dollar so much," he says.

With all this planning, the father of three has little time left for leisure, though he does still get to the gym. He will need all his strength too, if his ambitions are realized. Watanabe wants to see a greater government role for younger LDP members. But even while he's pushing youth, he still looks to the past for guidance. His motto comes from his late father and mentor, who noted that no nation has ever held onto its prosperity permanently. "Japan will have to go the same path someday," he said. "The task of Japanese lawmakers is to prolong the prosperity of Japan for as long as possible."


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