Veiled warning to China: Don't rock isle boat

Abe plays it safe in Diet speech


Staff Writer

Delivering a key policy speech to the Diet, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday that no country should resort to the use of force to “change the status quo” regarding territorial disputes, in an apparent warning to China.

Abe didn’t elaborate further, nor did he mention China by name.

In another part of the prime minister’s annual policy speech, however, Abe urged China “not to conduct any dangerous acts” that could escalate the Senkaku dispute, referring to incidents in January when Chinese warships allegedly locked their weapon-targeting radar on Maritime Self-Defense Force units. Beijing has denied the allegations.

“We strongly urge (any countries) to refrain from taking actions that could escalate situations,” Abe said.

Otherwise, his policy speech focused mostly on domestic issues and he remained low-key on diplomatic matters, trying to shed his international reputation as a hawk.

“My doors of dialogue are always kept open” for China, Abe said, reiterating that ties with Beijing represent “one of (Japan’s) most important bilateral relationships.”

Abe didn’t discuss his long-held goals of revising the pacifist Constitution or changing the government’s constitutional interpretation to expand the scope of Japan-U.S. military operations.

He only urged the Diet “to deepen nationwide discussions toward constitutional revision.”

Abe did not mention the dispute with South Korea over the Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan.

He only said the two countries “have difficult problems,” but he will build up “a future-oriented, important partnership” with Seoul.

Recently Abe has maintained a low profile on foreign matters, focusing instead on the economy in hopes of forging a solid power base through the Upper House election in July.

“We are still in ‘safe-driving mode,’ ” said a senior official close to Abe.

As for the politically explosive issue of whether Japan will participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, Abe didn’t clearly discuss his intention.

According to a government source, Abe initially was going to state in the speech that he intends to participate in the TPP talks, but he eventually dropped the idea.

Regardless, the source said Abe will soon formally announce his intention to participate in the talks as the LDP’s policy panel on the TPP issues has dropped its opposition.

Many lawmakers in Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party are elected from rural areas, where farmers strongly oppose Japan’s participation in the TPP talks.

The political focus is now expected to shift to how the government can provide financial support to farmers who will be exposed to international competition should Japan end up joining the TPP.

In his speech, Abe called on the public to “create a strong Japan” by rebuilding the economy.

“As long as people have the guts to strive for the world’s No. 1 position, I’m convinced Japan still can keep growing,” Abe said.

On energy policy, he reiterated his determination to restart nuclear reactors if their safety is assured under new standards drawn up by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. The operations of all but two reactors are still suspended because of the Fukushima nuclear crisis that started in 2011.

“We will restart nuclear power plants whose safety are confirmed,” Abe said.

‘Iron Lady’ quoted


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday quoted comments by ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher about the Falklands War as he spoke about Tokyo’s acrimonious isle row with China.

Shinzo Abe channeled the “Iron Lady” in a Diet speech in which he talked about Japan’s resolve to defend the islands in the East China Sea claimed by Beijing.

“Our national interests are immutable forever,” Abe told lawmakers. “They aim at making the seas — the foundation of our nation’s existence — completely open, free and peaceful.”

Aggressors should never triumph, he said, adding, “Former Prime Minister Thatcher, recalling the Falklands War, said she tried to follow the principle that above all, international law — the fundamental rule for the entire world — must prevail against the use of force.”

The comments echo those by Thatcher in her autobiography in which she reflected about the 1982 conflict with Argentina over the ownership of the Falklands.