Ball is in China's court after Abe's win
By Frank Ching
December 26, 2012, 12:00 am TWN
Shinzo Abe, widely viewed as a right-wing nationalist, assumes office this week as prime minister of Japan, the seventh time the country's leadership has changed hands in six years and his second turn at the helm since 2007.
The election manifesto of Abe's party, the Liberal Democrats, contained such proposals as changing the constitution so Japan can exercise its right to collective self-defense. It also took strong positions on territorial disputes with the country's neighbors.
Abe himself took a hawkish stance, insisting for example that the Senkaku islands, also claimed by China, are "Japan's inherent territory."
However, indications are that his actions as prime minister won't reflect campaign rhetoric.
For one thing, he is dispatching a special envoy to China, Masahiko Komura, the party's vice president, to improve relations on that front. Special envoys are also being sent to South Korea and Russia, other countries with which Japan has territorial disputes.
Moreover, at a press conference Saturday, Abe said he wanted to "make efforts to return to the starting point of developing the mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests" with China. "The Japan-China relationship," he said, "is one of extremely important bilateral ties."
While he had proposed posting officials on the disputed islands — known to China as the Diaoyus — to strengthen Japan's control over them, since the election he has only said that he would think about the possibility.
As for relations with South Korea, Abe is canceling a "Takeshima Day" ceremony originally scheduled for Feb. 22, which was meant to assert Japan's claims to a group of islands held by Seoul also known as Dokdo.
Abe has also been in contact with Russia. President Vladimir Putin has disclosed that the new Japanese leader wishes to sign a peace treaty.