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Domestic, Foreign Affairs Challenge Abe
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The newly-elected president of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Shinzo Abe expectably won the vote in an extra plenary Diet session and was elected the country's new prime minister on Tuesday afternoon, becoming the country's youngest premier after World War II.

The new career brings with Abe a series of tough tests.

Stepping onto the top executive post at a time when Japan's domestic and foreign affairs problems mounted, the 52-year-old conservative hawk faces a great deal of critical challenges such as mending ties with Asian neighbors, reducing the domestic wealth disparities, improving the sustainability of the social security system and reconstructing the national finance.

A diplomatic plight

The first and foremost pressing foreign affairs problem for Abe is to deal with the Yasukuni issue.

Japanese former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi insisted hardheadedly on paying visits to the notorious war-related Yasukuni Shrine during his tenure of more than five years, engendering severe deterioration of Japan's political relations with its Asian neighbors, especially China and South Korea, and dragging Japan into an embarrassed diplomatic isolation in the region.

The backward trend did not only go against Japan's national interests, but also aroused anxiety of its closest ally the United States.

From inside Japan's political and economic fields, voices calling for the improvement of the Sino-Japanese ties have been gaining strength. Many Japanese economic leaders feared the blur prospect of Sino-Japanese political relations could lead to a decline of trade volume and have been urging the government to help build a favorable environment for the development of economic cooperation between the two countries.

Recent public opinion polls showed that the majority of Japanese people hope to see their new premier's making a change to the Japan-China and Japan-South Korea relations and his saving Japan out of the diplomatic quagmire.

At the first press conference he hosted as prime minister on Tuesday evening, Abe described China as "an important country for Japan" and said that while maintaining the United States as Japan's closest ally, he is willing to make efforts to "further develop" the Sino-Japanese ties.

He also showed the intention to resume with China the summit talks which has been suspended since 2001 due to political obstacles induced by Koizumi's repeated shrine visits.

In his policy platform released during the LDP presidential campaign, Abe vowed to enhance mutual trusts with neighboring countries. The content of the coalition agreement signed by the LDP and its partner the New Komeito Party on Sept. 25 also reflected Abe's desire to strengthen ties with China and South Korea. And he has expressed willingness to visit the two important neighbors after taking power.

However, Abe has been adopting a "blur strategy" on the historical and the sensitive Yasukuni issues, and has been equivocating on how to judge Japan's disreputable militarist history of invasion before and during World War II and how to assess its responsibility for war.

Actually, Abe was a supporter of Koizumi's shrine visits and was a regular worshipper himself, and has made vehement remarks on the issue. He has up to now refused to say whether he will pay visit to the Yasukuni, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals, as a premier.

Besides, he used to take right-wing positions on issues like history-whitewashing textbooks and "comfort women."

Now it's time to see what viewpoints Abe will adopt and whether he will suit his actions to the promises he made during the campaign.   
Domestic heavy burdens

The Koizumi administration not only leaves a diplomatic hot water to Abe, but also widening wealth disparities and social security crisis to the Japanese society.

To reduce wealth disparities and rebuild finance are undoubtedly urgent and formidable assignments for Abe, who is not proficient at economic policies.

Although he has a general scheme to rebuild finance with the overall economic growth and to invigorate the nation with regional vigor, it's still unknown whether he could come up with practical and effective economic policies.

Right after being elected president of the LDP on Sept. 20, Abe said he would put making drastic reform of the education system and pushing for the extension of the counter-terrorism act on top of the reform agenda. He also regarded replacing the current US-drafted Constitution with Japan's own as one of the priorities, leaving diplomatic and economic problems unmentioned.

This indicated that Abe may not assume a down-to-earth attitude and deal with the problems at the center of most Japanese people's concern at the beginning stage of his term, and thus the future is in doubt.

The ship of Abe has now left harbor. Whether the "captain" could make appropriate solutions to Japan's domestic and foreign affairs problems and provide good answers to the Japanese people will decide not only his own political career, but also his party's fate in the House of Councilors election slated for next summer.

(Xinhua News Agency September 28, 2006)

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