Hawkish prime minister-in-waiting tries to talk up China relations

Abe vague on manning Senkakus, Yasukuni visits

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Shinzo Abe, who is expected to be named prime minister next week, tried Monday to ease international concerns a bit over his hawkish stance a day after his Liberal Democratic Party won an overwhelming victory in the Lower House election.

Responding to a question from a reporter of China’s official Xinhua news agency at a news conference, Abe described Sino-Japanese relations as “one of the most important bilateral relationships,” pledging to make efforts to improve bilateral ties that have been under severe strain.

“China is an indispensable country for the Japanese economy to keep growing,” Abe said at his first press briefing since election day.

“We need to use some wisdom so that political problems will not develop and affect economic issues,” Abe said.

Earlier in the same news conference, Abe was asked if, as prime minister, he will visit Tokyo’s war-related Yasukuni Shrine and station government workers on the disputed Senkaku Islands, as he had proposed during the LDP’s election campaign.

But he did not answer those questions specifically, except to generalize that it is important for Japan’s leader to pay respects to the war dead at the shrine and defend the nation’s territory.

“The (Senkakus are) the inherent territory of Japan. . . . We own and effectively control them. There is no room for negotiations about that,” Abe said.

Japan must send a strong message to China that assaulting Japanese companies and people in China, as happened during anti-Japanese riots in the fall, clearly violates international rules, he said.

Japan, he noted, has made great investments in China and China has also greatly benefited from them, adding that the bilateral ties constitute a “mutually beneficial strategic relationship.”

Yasukuni enshrines Japan’s war dead who dedicated their lives to the country, Abe said, adding visiting the shrine should not be a source of diplomatic problems, even though this has not been the case with China.

“I should not say more than that” about Yasukuni, Abe said, declining to say whether he will visit it as prime minister.

A vast majority of those enshrined at Yasukuni are Japanese soldiers who died during the war, but wartime leaders who were found guilty of class-A war crimes, most notably Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo, are also honored at Yasukuni.

Abe has remained vague about whether he will visit the shrine as prime minister, an apparent attempt to avoid inflaming Beijing and losing core domestic support at the same time.

On the economy, Abe also said he will revive the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, which was a key advisory body for the Cabinet of ex-LDP Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.