BEIJING – Caution and a wait-and-see attitude characterize the reaction in China to the launch Wednesday of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with some speculating the security hawk may employ a pragmatic approach to Beijing after improving ties during his first term from September 2006 to September 2007.
Officials and scholars expressed caution regarding Japan’s “shift to the right,” while others said Abe may act to temper relations strained by issues involving the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, administered by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.
“Mr. Abe has sent a signal to improve China-Japan relations,” said Liu Jiangyong, vice dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Liu was referring to news reports that Abe has decided not to start stationing government officials on the Senkaku Islands in the near future, and that he may send Masahiko Komura, vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party who has ties with Beijing, to China as a special envoy.
“But it is not immediately clear whether such moves represent Abe’s long-term strategy (to improve and develop relations with China) or tentative measures until the LDP cements power in a House of Councilors election (slated for July),” Liu said. “We have to carefully monitor the Abe government’s policy toward China.”
While citing concern about an LDP plan to enable Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense and the Abe government’s determination to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance to deter Beijing, the China Daily expressed hope Thursday that Abe will work with China to improve relations from a “broad perspective.”
“During his first term as prime minister, Abe worked on improving Japan’s relations with China by seeking to establish a partnership of mutual benefit between the two countries,” the paper said in an editorial. “Now he has been given a second chance in the role, we hope that he will keep a broad perspective on bilateral relations.”
The editorial accused the government of Abe’s predecessor, Yoshihiko Noda, of “nationalizing China’s Diaoyu Islands” and “triggering the tension between the two countries.”
The uninhabited islets are claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu, and by Taiwan, which calls them the Tiaoyutai. Japan-China ties have deteriorated sharply since the Japanese government purchased three of the five main islets in the Senkaku group from their Japanese owner on Sept. 11, effectively nationalizing the chain.