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Japan PM-elect Hatoyama to woo Asia next
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The landslide election win by Japan's opposition Democratic Party over the ruling conservatives raises hopes in Asia that the often tense relationships with Tokyo's leaders will give way to improved regional ties.

Republic of Korea (ROK) President Lee Myung-bak Monday sent a congratulatory message to Prime Minister-elect Yukio Hatoyama, expressing hope of strengthening relations between the Asian neighbors.

Lee told Hatoyama by telephone that he believed the ROK and Japan "can open a new era," while Hatoyama replied the two countries should cooperate "more closely," Lee's office said in a statement.

A Chinese academic said the Democratic Party's spectacular win - official results were still being tallied but the party captured more than 300 of the 480 seats available - means it is in a position to break new ground on Japan's image in Asia.

The Democratic Party "has a psychological advantage in not having to 'adhere to their ancestors' as the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) used to have to do," said Shi Yongmin, a researcher from the China Institute of International Studies and a Japan expert.

Many of Japan's problems with its neighbors have been festering since the end of World War II, including fights over compensating war victims, territorial rows and what many see as not showing proper contrition for its aggression in China, Korea and other parts of Asia.

South Korean President Lee's office quoted him as saying that issues of history "are very difficult and fundamental matters ... But I think we can go hand in hand and walk together toward the future if we share a correct" view of history.

Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama, almost certain to be the next prime minister, has made a positive impression on China and South Korea by saying he will not visit the Yasukuni Shrine, seen as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Experts said a Japan led by the Democrats could put Tokyo into stiffer competition for leadership in Asia with Beijing in tackling non-traditional security issues including energy security, green growth, protecting sea lanes and disaster relief.

Hatoyama and the Democrats have called for a new arrangement for Japan's most important security relations with the US, which for decades has had troops in the country.

Some analysts say Japan's prospective effort to upgrade its role in the defense alliance may not be a good thing for China. US presence in Japan can be seen as a bottle cap keeping the Japanese military genie in the bottle, the Chinese analysts have argued.

The Democrats are seeking greater equality in the relationship that would allow Japan to act with greater flexibility. Some analysts worry that a more assertive Tokyo could lead to strained ties with Washington.

"However, the Democratic Party will probably sing the same tune with the US and move somewhat together" especially regarding the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), said Kim Sang-joon, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul.

The Democratic Party is an unlikely alliance formed across the political spectrum and it remains to be seen how it will address many regional issues such as often-stalled free-trade talks with Australia and the ROK.

(China Daily September 1, 2009)

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