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Abe Urged to Improve Asian Diplomacy
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Japan's new ruling party leader Shinzo Abe, who is certain to succeed Junichiro Koizumi as the country's prime minister next week, is urged to improve strained relations with Asian neighbors by a former Japanese premier and major Japanese press Thursday.

"In the area of foreign policy, normalizing Japan's frayed relations with China and South Korea will be an urgent priority for the Abe administration," said Japanese former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, in an opinion article published on the English-language newspaper Japan Times on Thursday.

Under Koizumi administration, "diplomacy towards Asian neighbors has floundered," Nakasone said, "Japan's relations with China and South Korea, key players in our Asian diplomacy, must be restructured on a sustainable basis so as to promote prosperity in all of East Asia," he said in the article "Abe needs to bring vision, pragmatism to the job."

"...it is important to deal properly with the Yasukuni issue," he said.

Abe garnered 464 votes out of a total of 703 votes at the presidential election of the Liberal Democratic Party on Wednesday, while the other two competitors, Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, won 136 votes and 102 votes respectively.

The chief cabinet secretary, who turned 52 on Thursday, is expected to become the nation's first prime minister after World War II on Tuesday. Though he swept to an easy win, major press said on Thursday that the would-be young leader faces real challenges in running the administration, one of which is Japan's Asian diplomacy.

"...it was public popularity rather than his vision and policies that was behind the strong support for Abe," said an editorial of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper on Thursday," ... He has never directly managed the nation's economic policies, and we are deeply concerned about this," the paper said.

"Abe also failed to present clear-cut views on the issue of Yasukuni Shrine and the recognition of the nation's history. His strategy seems to have been to avoid raising the issue during the campaign," it said.

Koizumi's repeated pilgrimages to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine, where top war criminals are honored, have impaired the political basis of bilateral relations between Japan and China and has become a major obstacle against improvement of the ties.

"Although Abe has stressed the need to improve relations, he has not said how he would accomplish that goal," the Asahi Shimbun newspaper said on Thursday.

"One major question he faces is whether he can make a breakthrough in foreign affairs. Relations with China and South Korea have fallen to their lowest levels in recent memory because of Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine," the paper said.

"Political analysts both in and outside of Japan agree it will be crucial for Abe to realize a visit to the two countries at an early stage of his administration to remove the diplomatic thorn that has become a concern in Japanese business circles as well as the United States, Japan's closest ally," Kyodo News said Thursday.

In a separate article on the Asahi named "Mending ties with China, South Korea pressing issues," the paper noted that Abe's "most immediate task on the diplomatic front" will be to restore Tokyo's tattered ties with Beijing and Seoul.

Quoting a journalist Ryuichi Teshima, the paper said that "as for the Yasukuni problem, it has the potential to develop into an unpleasant issue with Washington," as Japan and the United States have lacked a common strategy in East Asia since the end of Cold War.

"By not making any more shrine visits, Abe will prevent Japan from being isolated from the rest of the world," it said.

(Xinhua News Agency September 21, 2006)

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