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China Daily Website

Abe returns as Japan's leader

Updated: 2012-12-27 00:04
By ZHANG YUNBI ( China Daily)

Shinzo Abe on Wednesday was sworn in as Japan's seventh prime minister in the past seven years amid the country's economic downturn and diplomatic deadlocks with neighbors.

Observers said Abe will seek pragmatic gestures to temper heated territorial disputes with neighboring countries, and enhanced US-Japan alliance will contribute to Tokyo's efforts to regain power in the East Asia region.

Abe returns as Japan's leader

Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (center), Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso (left) and Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki (right) walk with other Cabinet members after attending an attestation ceremony for Abe's cabinet in Tokyo on Wednesday. Itsuo Inouye / Associated Press

The new Cabinet is a powerful one, which Abe calls a "crises breaker", and is composed of many veteran politicians. It features former prime minister Taro Aso, who takes the posts of vice-prime minister, financial minister and financial services minister.

Heading the foreign ministry is Fumio Kishida, a veteran on Okinawa issues. The new defense minister is Itsunori Onodera, who was in Abe's previous administration in 2006-07.

To achieve his top job of an "economic rebirth", Abe has ordered his new Cabinet to discuss a budget amendment on Wednesday night, Japan's Jiji Press News Agency said.

Abe's cabinet will put reviving the economy at the top of its agenda and won't further fuel the heated territorial disputes, Seoul-based Chosun Ilbo newspaper estimated.

As a gesture to improve Tokyo's soured ties with Seoul, Abe is considering attending the inauguration ceremony of South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye in February, Japan's Asahi Television reported on Wednesday.

Tensions between the two countries rose in August after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited a disputed island, which Seoul calls Dokdo and Tokyo calls Takeshima.

Gao Hong, deputy director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Abe may seek a more pragmatic and milder role for regional ties in contrast to his widely known hawkish profile.

"Abe will display more flexibility in tweaking relevant policies and ensure a balanced posture in future moves," Gao said.

The ousted Democratic Party of Japan has witnessed a sharp diplomatic deadlock sparked by a series of territorial disputes with its neighbors this year.

Beijing on Wednesday called on the new administration to make tangible efforts to "overcome difficulties in bilateral ties" and get relations back on track.

The two neighbors witnessed a sharp standoff after Japan's illegal "purchase" of China's Diaoyu Islands in September.

"Healthy, stable China-Japan ties serve the core interests of both countries and their peoples," said Hua Chunying, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.

Although the LDP administration needs to heal the "wound" left by the ousted DPJ Cabinet, Gao said Abe's proposals for warming neighborly ties do not run against Tokyo's basic diplomatic goal ― enhancing the US-Japan alliance.

Abe will make his maiden visit abroad to the United States in January.

Feng Wei, an expert on Japanese studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the new Cabinet "has shown strong preference" on deepening the US-Japan alliance and listed it as its top diplomatic and defense priority.

Abe's planned Washington visit signals that Japan is ready to end its wavering attitude toward the US-Japan alliance, said Yuan Peng, an expert on US studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

In the past few years, the DPJ Cabinet has been blasted for trying to drift away from Tokyo's strategic dependence on Washington.

"Both allies have their own pursuits in deepening the alliance, as Washington expects Tokyo to continue to serve as the leading force of Washington's pivot to Asia, while Tokyo seeks to regain the regional balance of power," Yuan said.

Related readings:

Abe elected as Japan's premier, launches Cabinet

Abe's govt announces new cabinet lineup

Abe should rebuild mutual trust with China

Abe becomes Japan's new prime minister

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