Shinzo Abe leads Japan again: does it spell trouble with China?

Dec 17, 2012

Abe is back as prime minister and some fear what his hard-line patriotism will mean for Asia

JAPAN’S Liberal Democrats enjoyed a landslide victory in the country’s elections at the weekend but the news was greeted with concern in the world’s media because of new PM Shinzo Abe’s “aggressive” views towards China.
Abe, consistently described as “hawkish”, has pledged to defend Japan’s territories and said he want to "stop the challenge" from China over the chain of Senkaku/Diaoyu islands claimed by both countries.

China Daily has dubbed him a "warmonger with dangerous designs" while the Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman claims that Abe, with his “nationalist record and rhetoric”, might do something to heighten tensions with China – by, for example, stationing Japanese government officials on the disputed islands. Rachman concluded “This is one to watch in 2013.”

One of Abe’s campaign pledges was to actually build on the islands which are currently uninhabited, a move that is sure to provoke China. Justin McCurry in The Guardian said a “furious reaction is expected from Beijing if the LDP goes ahead” with pledges to develop fisheries and build on the Senkakus.

The last time Abe was prime minister, for almost exactly a year in 2007, he made a point of restoring tattered relations with China, and while it is possible he may try to do that again “his core beliefs and his recent rhetoric suggest otherwise” says the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes.

However, Abe did vow in his acceptance speech to move quickly to improve ties with China and the New York Times columnist Martin Fackler claims that, even before the election, Abe’s camp had been “quietly reaching out to Beijing to ease tensions”.

Abe’s biggest challenge is not China but economic downturn, several observers claim. The Liberal Democrat Party has inherited major economic woes that “no leader in Tokyo has been able to fix”, says Chico Harlin in the Washington Post.

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