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UPDATED: December 25, 2012 NO. 52 DECEMBER 27, 2012
The Return of Abe
As Japan undergoes a political power transition, problems remain the same
By Ding Ying

Diplomatic policy

Chinese observers believed that Abe's top priority remains economic development. Japan's prospects of improving its economy rest on its ability to maintain good relations with its neighbor, which strongly object to Japan's right-wing bent because of the disastrous consequences of World War II.

Li Suhua, a researcher on Japanese studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said Abe is a pragmatic politician. Li pointed out that not only China and South Korea, but also the United States worried about Abe's hawkish comments during the election. If he feels enough pressure from both inside and outside the country, Abe is likely to lead cautiously. And though Abe and the LDP intend to revise the Constitution, they cannot currently expect to win the required support from two thirds of upper house parliamentarians or from two thirds of Japanese citizens, said Li.

Abe promised after winning the election that he will focus on promoting Japan's diplomatic strength, which he argued was weakened under the DPJ administration. However, Chinese observers do not anticipate many major differences between the two parties' foreign policies.

Abe announced that he will visit the United States in late January or February 2013 and meet with U.S. President Barack Obama to solidify the Japan-U.S. relationship.

Yang Bojiang, another researcher with the CASS, said Abe's announcement sent several messages: First, he will completely adhere to the LDP's traditional policy of turning to the United States and gaining Washington's trust; second, he hopes to solicit U.S. support in the region; and third, he will look to resume political trust with the U.S. president.

In 2012, Japan's aggressive actions and comments on disputed territories seriously damaged its relationships with neighbors, especially China. Many Chinese people are worried that Abe's coming to power will further damage bilateral relations. In an Internet poll carried out on December 17 in China, 78.8 percent of the participants believed the China-Japan relationship will worsen after Abe takes office. And 89.5 percent thought that if Abe revises the current Constitution and upgrades the self-defense force into a self-defense army, the possibility of military conflicts in East Asia will greatly heighten.

Abe said on December 17 that the China-Japan relationship is one of the most important bilateral ties for Japan. He said the current tension between China and Japan has not only damaged bilateral relations, but also harmed Japan's national interests. Abe said he will increase communication with China so as to revive relations.

Japan cannot develop its economy without the Chinese market, Hu said. The Japanese economy relies more on China than vice versa, especially in the export sector, said Hu, adding Abe's words proved that he is prepared to improve Japan's relationship with China for economic reasons.

Hu said the LDP's economic policy will have some influence on China as well. Depreciation of the yen will add more pressure on the yuan's appreciation. It may also affect China's foreign trade to an extent.

"The LDP will pay more attention to domestic affairs in the short term. Its diplomatic policy will focus on stabilizing foreign relations instead of conducting provocative actions," Hu said. He said Abe will not take any steps on any territory dispute, such as dispatching government functionaries to the Diaoyu Islands, because triggering a new round of crisis in bilateral relations is not in Japan's interests. "The LDP criticized the DPJ's clumsy diplomacy, so it should be careful not to worsen the China-Japan relationship," said Hu.

Zhang Zhixin, a scholar with the Capital University of Economics and Business, points out that Abe's coming to power might create some opportunities for bilateral relations.

Abe considers Washington its top ally, and the United States hopes to strengthen its dominance in East Asia. A confrontation between China and Japan is not the result that Washington wants, said Zhang.

During former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's administration, China-Japan relations had maintained a state of "cold politics and warm economy" for five years. That cold political relationship ultimately influenced bilateral economic cooperation. In 2006, Abe paid an "ice-breaking" visit to China shortly after assuming office, initiating a warm-up period.

The China-Japan relationship is of great importance. China knows it, Japan knows it and the world knows it. If Abe is wise, he will restore ties with China and promote regional stability.

Email us at: dingying@bjreview.com

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