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New Japanese leader cannot risk harming economic links: experts
The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan's won an emphatic election victory, but tension with China will continue if party chief Shinzo Abe ditches pragmatism and follows his hawkish campaign rhetoric, experts said.
Immediately after his victory was confirmed, Abe promised improved ties with China at a news conference, Xinhua News Agency reported.
The LDP won a commanding majority - nearly 300 seats in the 480-member lower house - and with its ally the New Komeito Party winning about 30 seats, a government can be easily formed.
However, Abe will have to tread carefully as he cannot afford to sacrifice Japan's economic interests in China and may have to pursue a dual policy of being tough on territorial issues while promoting business ties, experts said.
Abe will be Japan's seventh prime minister in six years.
During the campaign, he adopted a harsh tone in his foreign policy statements, especially on relations with China amid tension over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.
He 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.
Abe also wants to loosen the limits of a 1947 pacifist constitution on the military.
The LDP will "learn the lessons of the Democratic Party of Japan", a specialist in Japanese affairs said.
Abe will put US ties at the top of his agenda, and this is why he will travel to Washington early in his new term, said Lu Yaodong, a specialist in Japanese affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The LDP will go further than the Democratic Party of Japan to fan territorial disputes and try to contain China, Lu said.
Xinhua warned in a commentary on Sunday that "it is a troubling sign" that the LDP "pledged to take a tough stance on territorial disputes and boost military spending to woo rightist voters".
"These policies, if carried out, will surely further sour Japan's relations with its neighbors and even increase political and military risks in the region," the commentary said.
It advised the LDP to consider the big picture and take a long-term view.
In his first term in office, from 2006 to 2007, Abe adopted a moderate approach toward foreign policy and pushed forward the "China-Japan strategic relationship".
Yang Bojiang, a professor of Japanese studies at the University of International Relations, said Japan's overall foreign policy will be more "self-centered" and the US-Japan alliance will be promoted.
However, the new Japanese cabinet will adopt a cautious approach as the economic benefits of cooperation are evident, Yang said.
Feng Wei, an expert on Japanese studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said it is unlikely that Abe will revise the constitution, as "it will offend the Americans".
Reuters also quoted experts on Sunday as saying that Abe will be pragmatic in office.
The LDP ruled Japan almost continuously for more than five decades until it was ousted by the DPJ in 2009.
The LDP and its partner are likely to obtain the two-thirds majority needed to break a budget deadlock that has plagued governments for years.
Noda suffered a backlash for his party's failure to act quickly enough after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown. He also tried to push through an unpopular sales tax.
"I have great expectations of Abe," said Kyohei Yamashita, a 45-year-old businessman in Tokyo.
"The LDP has the experience and knowledge after so many years in power. Japan is a country without vitality and confidence."
Japan is locked in a seemingly unbreakable deflationary spiral; its workforce is in decline; and the global economic slowdown and a strong yen are weakening exports.
A 70-year-old Tokyo resident, who did not give his name, said the country was dispirited due to one natural disaster after another in recent years.
"I hope that Japan will grow stronger, " he said.
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(China Daily 12/17/2012 page1)