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Abe Ready To Go To China

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Shaun Tandon
Tokyo (AFP) Sep 27, 2006
Japan said Wednesday its new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could visit China as soon as next month to repair damaged bilateral ties as he knuckled down to work on his conservative agenda. Abe, Japan's first premier born after World War II, is known for his nationalist views but has vowed to mend relations with China and South Korea, which were enraged by his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a war shrine.

"Now that the prime minister has been replaced, we want to hold a summit somewhere with China in October," Foreign Minister Taro Aso said in an interview with Japanese media.

"We must consider many things including the option of a visit to China by the prime minister. The change in the premiership came at a good time," said Aso, who also served under Koizumi.

Japanese officials had previously voiced hopes Abe could meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun in November when they attend an Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam.

Abe on Wednesday held his first telephone conversation with US President George W. Bush and agreed to meet with him in Hanoi or sooner, an Abe spokesman said. Koizumi was one of Bush's closest foreign allies.

China protested Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine, which honors war dead and war criminals alike. The two countries are also at odds over lucrative gas and oil fields in the East China Sea.

But China remains Japan's biggest trading partner and Abe has come under pressure from business leaders to improve relations.

Abe, on taking office Tuesday, said that a peaceful China was "the most important country" for Japan. His conciliatory remarks were cautiously welcomed by leaders in the neighboring countries.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao promised "relentless efforts" to improve ties, while South Korea's Roh called for "future-oriented" relations with Japan.

However, China's state-run People's Daily said in an editorial that even though Abe wants to improve relations, "it must be said that the obstacles to Sino-Japanese political relations have not been cleared up."

Abe has strongly supported Koizumi's pilgrimages to the Yasukuni shrine but studiously refused to say if he would go himself.

In another sign that differences persist, Japan's new defense chief Fumio Kyuma was quoted saying that China's growing military spending posted a threat to Japan, taking a stance that has angered Beijing in the past.

"No matter how much Japan spends on defense, it would not be able to compete if they have so much in nuclear arms and missiles," Kyuma told the Jiji Press news agency.

A first opinion poll showed domestic support for Abe.

Kyodo News said 65 percent supported the new premier in an overnight poll of 1,464 voters, a high figure but nowhere near the 86 percent Koizumi enjoyed immediately after taking office.

The media were more skeptical, with newspapers across the spectrum saying Abe allotted posts motivated by party politics rather than a desire for reform.

In sharp contrast the maverick Koizumi refused to give jobs based on factional dynamics in the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

"We cannot erase our fears about whether he will have the political clout to be able to get the better of the bureaucrats," the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun said in an editorial.

Abe, who came to prominence as a hardliner on North Korea, has sought to strengthen the role of his office along a White House-style model.

He appointed a first national security adviser, Yuriko Koike, a high-profile lawmaker known for her hawkish views toward neighboring countries and expertise on the Middle East. Abe told Bush he hoped to send Koike soon to Washington.

Abe kept a low profile on his first day in office, telling reporters "I'll do my best" as he entered his office in the morning.

He toured the recently renovated prime minister's residence with his wife Akie and said he was impressed.

"It looks like a more comfortable place to live in than I imagined," Abe said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Japanese Defense Chief Says Military Growth Of China A Threat
Tokyo (AFP) Sep 27, 2006
Japan's new defense chief Fumio Kyuma was quoted saying Wednesday that China's growing military spending posed a threat to Japan, taking a stance that has angered Beijing in the past. His remarks, one day after being named to the post, came on the heels of a pledge by new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to try to improve relations with China that had soured under his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi.

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