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Hawkish Abe is back as Japan’s Prime Minister

Insists on mending the alliance with US

Shinzo Abe (centre), leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, taking office as Japan’s new Prime Minister on his arrival after the attestation ceremony in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo yesterday. Photo: AFP

Shinzo Abe (centre), leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, taking office as Japan’s new Prime Minister on his arrival after the attestation ceremony in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo yesterday. Photo: AFP

Japan’s newly-elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to rebuild the economy and mend Japan’s alliance with the United States in the face of an assertive China at his first news conference yesterday.

Abe was elected premier by the lower house of Parliament after sweeping to power on a hawkish platform of getting tough on diplomatic and economic issues.

“A strong economy is the source of Japan’s national strength. Without a strong economy, Japan will not achieve fiscal reconstruction and have a future,” Abe said.

Earlier yesterday, the yen had tumbled against the dollar on growing speculation on further easing measures by the Bank of Japan – a key plank of Abe’s campaign.

Abe vowed to defend Japanese territory and waters but stressed that his government will carry out a diplomacy drive to “win back” national interests.

“There are many issues concerning Japan-China relations, Japan-South Korea relations and Japan-US relations – which is the foundation of Japan’s diplomacy,” he said.

“We must re-establish trust in the Japan-US alliance,” he said, adding that he has spoken to US President Barack Obama and agreed to foster long-term relations. Ties with the US were strained under the previous government on the relocation of US bases in Okinawa.

Abe also said that his Cabinet would stay focused on the reconstruction of the northern region that was devastated by a 9-magnitude earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011.

“By delivering results I would like to earn the trust of the Japanese people and make this a stable government,” he said.

Abe achieved a resounding election victory earlier this month for his Liberal Democratic Party over the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

Yesterday he secured 328 votes to 57 for the DPJ’s new leader Banri Kaieda, the industry minister during last year’s Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Within hours of his election, Abe, who was prime minister from 2006 to 2007, unveiled his new Cabinet as he rushed to draft an extra budget.

Taro Aso, another former prime minister in Japan’s revolving-door political system, was appointed as Abe’s deputy and finance minister.

The foreign minister job went to Fumio Kishida, who was a state minister in charge of Okinawan affairs during Abe’s previous tenure.

His appointment was seen as a reflection of Abe’s desire for progress on the relocation of US military bases, as Japan is embroiled in a territorial row with China.

Kishida stressed the claim of the disputed islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, while calling for a dialogue with his Chinese counterpart in an effort to patch up ties with Beijing.

“Senkaku islands are undoubtedly part of our country’s territory,” Kishida said. “But Japan-China relations also have many aspects of mutual benefit. We must have firm communications between the two foreign ministers.”

The defence portfolio went to Itsunori Onodera, who served as deputy foreign minister for a year during Abe’s earlier premiership and during that of his successor Yasuo Fukuda.

Sadakazu Tanigaki, the head of the LDP when the party was in opposition after ruling Japan for most of the past six decades, became justice minister.

Abe, Japan’s seventh premier in less than seven years, replaces Yoshihiko Noda whose DPJ suffered a stinging defeat at the polls.

The party, which came to power in 2009, was seen as being punished for policy flip-flops and its clumsy handling of the Fukushima atomic disaster.

Abe won conservative support with nationalistic pronouncements on diplomacy amid the row with Beijing over the East China Sea islands, saying Japan would stand firm on its claim to the chain.

He has also said he would consider revising Japan’s post-war pacifist Constitution, alarming officials in China and South Korea.

But Abe quickly toned down the campaign rhetoric and has said he wants improved ties with China, Japan’s biggest trading partner. He called for a solution through what he described as “patient exchanges”.

China called on Abe to meet it “halfway” to try and improve relations that have been hurt by the debilitating territorial dispute.

South Korea has its own islands dispute with Japan. But President Lee Myung-Bak sent Abe his congratulations, saying the countries have engaged in “close cooperation and exchanges as close neighbours and friendly nations”.

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