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Hata to Take the Reins in Japan's New Government

TSUTOMU HATA, Japan's foreign minister and prime minister-designate, promised yesterday to show leadership in tackling three key tasks - slashing government red tape, revamping the tax system, and reducing the huge trade surplus.

Today, Mr. Hata is expected to become premier after a formal vote in parliament and to announce his new Cabinet. While other opposition parties will put forth their candidates, he is certain to win because the ruling coalition of which his Japan Renewal Party is a member holds a majority in the decisive lower house. Hata denied speculation that his ally, Ichiro Ozawa, would control policymaking as a backstage boss.

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Hata now faces an uphill battle in attempting to coordinate policy with partners in the unruly and fractious seven-party coalition. The coalition nearly collapsed after Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa's resignation April 8 over a loan scandal.

The alliance wrangled bitterly for two weeks in an attempt to hammer out a common policy platform. It finally approved a platform that failed to resolve the issues of how to reform the tax system and what policy to adopt on North Korea.

Japan faces the likelihood of early elections if the coalition fails to paper over its differences in future policy feuds. Hata did not rule out elections, but said the time was not ripe. China releases leading dissident

CHINA has taken a step to improve relations with Washington, freeing a leading political prisoner from the 1989 pro-democracy movement and allowing him to travel to the United States for medical treatment.

Wang Juntao, sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1991 on charges of masterminding the demonstrations in Beijing, was greeted on arrival at New York on Saturday by his wife, Hou Xiaotian.

A Chinese source said the initial impetus for Mr. Wang's release had come from the US, and Beijing had agreed to it only on the condition that he leave China.

President Clinton must decide by June 3 whether to extend China's most-favored-nation (MFN) trade benefits.

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Beijing's MFN diplomacy is not restricted to releasing dissidents. Chinese leaders miss no opportunity to say the loss of MFN status could cost US companies billions of dollars in business in China. To hammer home the message, Chinese Foreign Trade Minister Wu Yi has for two weeks been leading a trade mission in the US that has signed contracts China's press said were worth $11 billion.

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