Abe acts tough on islands

Updated: 2012-12-18 07:53

By Li Xiaokun in Beijing and Cai Hong in Tokyo (China Daily)

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 Abe acts tough on islands

Liberal Democratic Party chief Shinzo Abe says at a news conference in Tokyo on Monday that he will not compromise on territorial issues. Abe is set to become Japan's next prime minister following his party's election victory on Sunday. Toru Hanai / Reuters

Shinzo Abe, Japan's next prime minister, repeated his hawkish campaign rhetoric on Monday in what some observers called a performance that played to the gallery.

There was "no room for talks" on territorial disputes with China, Abe said at a news conference after his Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide victory in Sunday's general election.

But, in an acknowledgement of how important China ties are, he also expressed his wish to improve relations.

Beijing urged Tokyo on Monday to mend relations damaged by tension over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

Observers said Abe's tough words were just for show after the LDP secured a commanding majority - nearly 300 seats in the 480-member lower house.

Abe, the LDP chief, will become the next prime minister at a special session of the Diet, Japan's legislature, on Dec 26.

Relations with China are important and Abe said he hoped to improve them, though he ruled out visiting Beijing at this time.

Asked if he will visit Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war criminals, Abe said under the current diplomatic situation it is inappropriate to give a clear answer to that question.

He insisted the Diaoyu Islands were "Japan's inherent territory" and that there was "no room for talks" over their sovereignty.

The news conference was broadcast live in China.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday that Beijing values ties and that the onus is on Tokyo to improve relations.

"China hopes Japan will reflect on, and properly handle, the current difficulty in relations," Hua said.

"We are highly concerned about which direction Japan will take," she said, reiterating Beijing's claim that the islands are part of China.

During the campaign, Abe vowed to increase defense spending and revitalize a security alliance with the United States that is widely thought to have drifted under current Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's administration.

He also wants to loosen the limits of a 1947 pacifist constitution on the military.

Yang Bojiang, a professor of Japanese studies at the University of International Relations, said Abe will take a dual-track approach to China policy to achieve the contradictory aims of protecting Japan's economic interests in China yet keeping a seemingly hard line on territorial issues.

"He will play up the conservative agenda, but will by no means sacrifice business ties at any cost. His priority is improving Japan's economy," Yang said.

"As a former premier, Abe is well aware of that."

AFP quoted analysts on Monday as saying that Japan's powerful business lobby may temper Abe's hawkish foreign policy agenda, especially on China.

Tetsuro Kato, professor emeritus at Hitotsubashi University, said Abe was aware of the need to navigate carefully and "knows the importance of ties with business circles", AFP reported.

Kato said Abe's hand would be tied by manufacturing powerhouses such as Toyota and Sony, which have bases in China and enjoy the fruits of its huge market.

Mikitaka Masuyama, professor of politics at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said the electorate would also keep Abe's more extreme inclinations in check.

"It's not that voters gave credibility to Abe's hawkish agenda. He knows that he has to moderate his confrontational posture on China if he wants to achieve results in economic recovery and keep public support," he said.

"If he fails to improve ties with China, voters will punish the LDP in upper house elections next year."

Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Shigetaka Sato said in an interview with Japan's Sankei Shimbun newspaper published on Monday that this is no time for anything but decisive action.

Sato urged the next government to pursue "decisive politics" based on reality.

Contact the writers at lixiaokun@chinadaily.com.cn and caihong@chinadaily.com.cn

AFP contributed to this story.

(China Daily 12/18/2012 page1)