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Japan's PM sounds less hawkish to seasoned listeners

Updated: 2012-12-27 00:04
By Cai Hong in Tokyo ( China Daily)

Experts are hearing nuances from Japan's newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he talks about Japan's diplomatic and defense policies, especially those relating to its neighbors China and South Korea.

Abe, whose Cabinet was formed on Wednesday, pledged to take a tough stance on the row over the Diaoyu Islands during his election campaign. He said he would not yield on the issue.

Now he is toning down his hawkish rhetoric since winning the lower house election on Dec 16. He picked Fumio Kishida as foreign minister on Wednesday, but little is known about Kishida's views toward China or South Korea.

Abe decided on Saturday not to station officials on the islands to avoid further aggravating ties with China, at least for the time being. Despite the flip-flop, however, Abe said "there is no change in our thinking" about stationing officials there.

"His actions are certain to differ from his speeches in the election campaign," the Asahi Shimbun quoted Hitoshi Tanaka, a senior fellow at the Japan Center for International Exchange, as saying.

"The bilateral relationship with China is one of Japan's most crucial" diplomatic policies, Abe said. "We want to make efforts to reset ties and start developing a mutually reciprocal relationship (with Beijing)."

Abe is intending to send LDP Vice-President Masahiko Komura, head of the Diet Members League for Friendship of Japan and China, as a special envoy to Beijing, Kyodo News reported.

Also, Abe is attempting to mend frayed ties by sending special envoys to South Korea and Russia, with which Japan has territorial disputes.

The conservative party has decided to postpone a state-sponsored event in February intended to promote Japan's claim to the Takeshima Islands, known as Dokdo in South Korea.

These gestures are said to prevent Japan from being isolated by its neighbors.

"He's been two Abes ― pragmatic and ideological," Reuters quoted Richard Samuels, director of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the United States, as saying.

Analysts say that Abe could say whatever he wanted during the campaign to win votes. But as prime minister, he will quickly shift to a governing mode. That means he will be, and should be, more realistic.

Abe talked with senior members of Keidanren, the nation's largest business lobby, two days after his party's victory in the general election. Japanese business leaders have been asking their government to ease tensions with China.

Abe visited China ― his first overseas trip ― shortly after he began his first premiership in 2006. And he shunned the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 2.5 million war dead, including 14 convicted Japanese Class-A war criminals from World War II. Those moves helped thaw the China-Japan relationship, which had been damaged by the annual pilgrimages of former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi to the shrine.

But Abe visited the shrine in October after being elected LDP president. It is not clear whether this was part of his campaign strategy.

About 72 percent of 473 newly elected House of Representative lawmakers support the idea of revising war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan's pacifist constitution, according to a survey conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun. Seventy-eight percent of legislators say the government should change its constitutional interpretation that forbids Japan from exercising the right of collective self-defense, the same survey indicated.

The approval of at least two-thirds of the members of both houses is needed to bring constitutional amendments before the Diet, Japan's parliament. Therefore, the figure found in the survey meets the requirements of the lower chamber to initiate amendments to the constitution.

It may be too early to say where Abe will lead Japan.

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