High hopes accompanied the congratulations from China and the Republic of Korea for Japan's new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. Both are expecting positive moves from the Abe administration to mend fences.
Japan's relationships with its two neighbors are of great importance far beyond Asia. While congratulating Abe on Tuesday, the White House hoped that he will be a good force for the Asia-Pacific region.
The rise of Abe, the first prime minister born after World War II, to the top government post marks a new turning point for Japanese politics and the country's relations with the rest of the world.
Abe faces a Japan that is at a crossroads following his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi's reforms, which have had far-reaching consequences in the economic and social realms.
The Koizumi administration has left him two negative legacies. On the diplomatic front, there are strained relations with Asian neighbors, especially China and the ROK; on the economic front, there is a widening wealth gap among Japanese as a result of the market-oriented reforms.
Abe is committed to finding the country's niche in the world. Naming his administration the "nation-building Cabinet," Abe said on Tuesday that he wants Japan to revive family values, be proud of its identity and take leadership in international affairs.
Before assuming his post, he unveiled a policy platform aimed at creating what he called "a beautiful country: Japan."
He called for a "departure from the post-war regime" by amending the Constitution to make it "appropriate for Japan" in a new era and reforming the education system.
On diplomacy, Abe spoke of the importance of improving relations with China and the ROK in addition to the already strong Japan-US ties.
Abe retained Foreign Minister Taro Aso from the Koizumi administration. Shortly after his re-appointment, Aso said the Japanese Government will be working towards holding summit talks with China. The heads of the two countries have not met since April 2005 due to Koizumi's annual pilgrimages to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine.
Abe also pledged to bolster the economy and plow ahead with structural reform.
His cards, then, are now on the table. Abe has designs for a stronger Japan and has pledged to pursue a more active diplomacy. His new diplomacy will enable Japan at times to take leadership and assert its opinion to set the world rules.
Some of Abe's new designs, such as establishing five new posts for aides in charge of important issues, will strengthen the functions of the prime minister's office.
It will take time to see how Abe's leadership can change the face of Japan and the rest of Asia.
His molding of a stronger Japan will have an impact on Asia and the world, hopefully for the better.
(China Daily September 28, 2006)