Japan election: LDP's Shinzo Abe vows tough China line

 
Shinzo Abe in Tokyo (16 Dec 2012) Mr Abe has served as Japanese prime minister once before

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The leader of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has vowed to take a tough stance in territorial disputes with China.

Shinzo Abe's comments come as exit polls indicate a decisive victory for his party in Japan's general election.

He said he wanted to "stop the challenge" from China over a chain of islands claimed by both countries.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has conceded defeat and resigned as head of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

The DPJ has been in power for three years. Japanese media said it had won between 55 and 77 seats in the 480-seat parliament, while the LDP had around 300.

The LDP's ally, the small New Komeito party, looks set to win about 30 seats, possibly giving the alliance a two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament.

That would give Mr Abe the power to over-rule the upper house and help to break a deadlock that some say has plagued the world's third biggest economy since 2007.

Mr Noda resigned from his party in the wake of results, telling a news conference: I want to deeply apologise as I could not produce results."

Analysis

The election of Shinzo Abe as Japan's new prime minister could have profound implications for Japan's relations with its neighbours, particularly China.

Many people point out that the last time Mr Abe was briefly prime minister, in 2007, he made a point of restoring tattered relations with China. And it's still possible he may try to do that again.

But his core beliefs and his recent rhetoric suggest otherwise.

In a recent interview, Mr Abe told me it was time for Japan to change its pacifist constitution so it can have a proper military and defend its own territory. He also vowed to protect every inch of Japan's sacred land and sea - including the disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands.

That by itself is not particularly controversial. But Mr Abe belongs to that part of Japanese society that does not really believe Japan's wartime aggression against China and South East Asia was a crime.

He favours the teaching of a more patriotic, uncritical version of Japanese history. Most controversially, he has openly said he does not believe that Japanese troops forced Chinese, Korean, and women from other Asian countries into sexual slavery during the Second World War.

China will now be watching very closely. Will Mr Abe, as prime minister, visit the extremely controversial Yasakuni Shrine in Tokyo to pay homage to Japan's war dead? Will he move to revoke a 1993 Japanese government apology on the "comfort women" issue? And what will he do to about Chinese ships and aircraft challenging Japan's control of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands?

Asian ties

The eight disputed islands are in the East China Sea, and known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China. They are uninhabited but strategically important.

Mr Abe said the islands were Japan's "inherent territory" and it was his party's objective was "to stop the challenge" from China.

"We don't intend to worsen relations between Japan and China," he said, adding that both sides "need to share the recognition that having good relations is in the national interests of both countries".

"China lacks this recognition a little bit. I want them to think anew about mutually beneficial strategic relations," he said.

Acknowledging Mr Abe's apparent victory, China's state-run Xinhua news agency warned that an "economically weak and politically angry Japan will not only hurt the country, but also hurt the region and the world at large.

It urged Japan's leaders to take a "rational stand on foreign policy" rather than "pandering to domestic hawkish views and picking fights with its neighbours".

Mr Abe also told Japan's Nippon TV he wanted to deepen ties with Asian nations, including India and Australia, and to boost Japan's struggling economy.

"We have promised to pull Japan out of deflation and correct a strong yen. The situation is severe, but we need to do this," he said

Sharp turn right

The LDP enjoyed almost 50 years of unbroken rule until 2009. Mr Abe has already served as Japanese prime minister between 2006 and 2007.

He is seen as a hawkish, right-of-centre leader whose previous term in office ended ignominiously amid falling popularity and a resignation on grounds of ill health.

Japan-China disputed islands

  • The archipelago consists of five islands and three reefs
  • Japan, China and Taiwan claim them; they are controlled by Japan and form part of Okinawa prefecture
  • Japanese businessman Kunioki Kurihara owned three of the islands but sold them to the Japanese state in September
  • The islands were also the focus of a major diplomatic row between Japan and China in 2010

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says that as many predicted, Japan has taken a sharp turn to the right.

The DPJ has struggled since coming to power in 2009. Two prime ministers came and went before Mr Noda as the party struggled to deliver amid the economic downturn and 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Mr Noda lost over his move to double sales tax, something he said was necessary to tackle Japan's massive debt.

By contrast, Mr Abe has promised more public spending, looser monetary policy, and to allow nuclear energy a role to play in resource-poor Japan's future despite last year's nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

But economists say there is little new in Mr Abe's policies, or 'Abenomics' as they have been called. They have been adopted by previous LDP governments without successfully renewing the Japanese economy.

 

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  • rate this
    -13

    Comment number 40.

    Let us all not forget the atrocities of Japanese troops in China specially The Rape of Nanking I love Japan as well as China but i must say Japanese should learn to remain in there boundaries like every other nation on planet.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 92.

    @72 That will never happen. If you were Chinese, given what the Japanese did before and during WW2 would you forgive them?

    It would be like the Jews forgiving the Nazis for the Holocaust.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 115.

    @113

    China has not a single intention of going to war. The Communist government is simply so anti-imperialistic that it could never undertake such a policy.

    For the time being it will only be a diplomatic row with Japan, moreover will not escalate further unless other factors such as third party involvement achieves unexpected, horrid results.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 117.

    Why the big fight? These islands are clearly MINE! What an opportunity, I will sell offshore mineral rights to the first nation backing my claim. Besides, good spider crab fishing in the region. Dear host nation, I get crab rights, you get gas and oil rights!
    PS - Hey Japan, I don't think the Chinese like you very much, Nanking and all that. (oh dear)

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 59.

    I see UKIP polling as the 3rd party doesn't warrent a mention anywhere on the BBC website. Isn't that censorship?

 

Comments 5 of 179

 

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