Abe gets another shot at Japan premiership
Updated: 2012-09-27 02:46
By Zhao Shengnan (China Daily)
Japan's main opposition party on Wednesday picked former prime minister and security hawk Shinzo Abe as its new leader, giving him another shot at the premiership.
Most analysts and media predicted a tough line from Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party on the Diaoyu Islands, territory that has belonged to China since ancient times, which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's government illegally "purchased" this month.
During a news conference after the LDP leadership announcement, Abe refused to acknowledge the Diaoyu Islands are disputable and pledged to safeguard Japan's territorial sovereignty if he becomes Japan's next top leader, Japan's Nikkei.com reported.
Opinion polls suggested that the LDP, which led Japan almost continuously since 1955 until it was defeated by the Democratic Party of Japan in 2009, will come first in a lower house election expected within months. That would put its leader in place to become the next prime minister.
The conservative LDP has tilted to the right in recent years. It has emphasized strengthening defense and security, from calling to beef up Japan's Self-Defense Forces to amending Japan's war-renouncing constitution and lifting a self-imposed ban on exercising its right to collective self-defense.
Opinion polls also suggested that the LDP will need a coalition partner and Abe has made it clear he was eyeing a possible connection with a party led by populist Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, which critics say is tapping simmering nationalist sentiment.
"I think China will be alarmed as will South Korea," said Koichi Nakano, a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.
However, some experts said the long-ruling LDP has rich diplomatic experience and contacts with China, meaning that it will handle bilateral ties in a more practical and mature manner.
Zhou Yongsheng, an expert on Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said Abe is pragmatic regarding China-Japan relations, pointing to his visit to China in 2006 as an example.
When in office from 2006 to 2007, Abe took major steps to repair bilateral ties, which had frayed during his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi's five years in office, in part due to Koizumi's annual visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honors dead soldiers, including Class-A war criminals. Abe's first visit abroad after taking office was to China.
Abe's hawkish words about China are partly to win support in the election campaign, said Zhou. "If elected as prime minister, he may take major steps to ease the tension in the interests of Japan."
It is necessary to view such relations from a strategic point of view as well as to enhance understanding and cooperation between the two countries, Abe told the news conference, adding the China-Japan relations can hardly be cut because of very close economic cooperation.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Wednesday said he had no comment on the election results, as they are part of Japan's internal affairs.
Speaking of the Diaoyu Islands and China-Japan relations, Hong said the current tension was initiated by the Japanese and that Tokyo must take full responsibility for its actions.
Hong urged Tokyo to take concrete measures to correct its mistakes and return to negotiations to create conditions for the improvement of bilateral ties.
Whether Abe or Noda claims the premiership will be revealed in months if Noda keeps his word to call an elections "soon" in exchange for the LDP's support in passing legislation to double Japan's 5 percent sales tax earlier this year.
But Noda suggested recently that the schedule should be revised in view of the LDP's support for a no-confidence motion against him in the opposition-controlled upper house.
Whoever takes charge of the world's third-largest economy after the election will face deep-rooted problems dogging the economy and much of unfinished business, analysts said.
With voters likely to be primarily concerned with Japan's stagnant economy, mounting social-security fees and energy policy in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, nationalistic policies may have to take a back seat no matter who becomes the nation's next leader, the Wall Street Journal quoted experts as saying.
Liu Yedan, Reuters and AP contributed to this story.
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