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POLITICAL ECONOMY
Japan economy woes may temper Abe's zeal: analysts
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 17, 2012


Shinzo Abe's thumping majority gives him freedom to push his hawkish foreign policy agenda, but Japan's powerful business lobby may temper his more extreme instincts, particularly on China, analysts said Monday.

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner bagged more than two-thirds of lower house seats in Sunday's election, giving them power enough to override the upper chamber.

On Monday, hours after the scale of his win became apparent, Abe re-staked Tokyo's claim to sovereignty of islands at the centre of a debilitating spat with China.

He said the islands were "Japan's inherent territory" and chided Beijing to "think anew" about the state of relations between the world's second and third largest economies.

But Tetsuro Kato, politics expert and professor emeritus at Hitotsubashi University, said Abe was aware of the need to navigate carefully and "knows the importance of ties with business circles".

Kato said Abe's hand would be constrained by manufacturing powerhouses such as Toyota and Sony, which have bases in China and enjoy the fruits of its huge market.

Tokyo and Beijing have been at loggerheads for decades over the sovereignty of a small chain of islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China.

The dispute flared badly in September after Tokyo nationalised them, triggering protests across China that led to boycotts or attacks on Japanese businesses.

The LDP, egged on by the emergence of a burgeoning nationalist party, pledged to "study" the idea of building a dock and stationing officials on the islands.

Commentators say Beijing would react very badly to that, with some warning it could even lead to conflict.

But Mikitaka Masuyama, professor of politics at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said China's huge economy and the massive trading relationship the two countries enjoy could trump Abe's zeal, even as it is likely to send him scurrying back into Washington's arms.

"Economic prosperity comes on condition that we enjoy stability and international security," he said, adding that had traditionally been "ensured by the alliance with the United States".

Zhou Weihong, a professor at the Beijing Centre for Japanese Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the LDP win could be positive for Beijing-Tokyo relations.

"The LDP has more people that are more familiar with China-Japan diplomatic issues because it was the ruling party for decades," he said.

"The LDP's way to handle (disputes) may not be that unpredictable for China -- a lot of the DPJ's moves while it was in power went beyond our expectations," he said.

Masuyama said the electorate would also keep Abe's more extreme inclinations in check.

"It's not that voters gave credibility to Mr. Abe's hawkish agenda. He knows that he has to moderate his confrontational posture on China if he wants to achieve results in economic recovery and keep public support," he said.

"If he fails to improve ties with China, voters will punish the LDP in upper house elections next year."

Park Cheol-Hee, director of the Institute for Japanese Studies in Seoul said South Korea -- which faces its own presidential election this week -- may find Japan under Abe to be very difficult.

"Abe is well known in South Korea for his nationalistic and sometimes controversial remarks and behaviour in the past," he said

"If he plays the nationalist card while in office, the two nations may see an escalation of diplomatic disputes which have already strained ties."

But commentators have noted that during his last stint as premier in 2006-7, Abe shied away from provocations and relations with both China and South Korea actually improved.

mis-kh-burs/hg/sr

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Investors on Monday cheered after Japan's conservatives swept back to power in national elections, with promises of a fix for the economy and tougher diplomacy in a territorial spat with China. Prime minister-in-waiting Shinzo Abe, the hawkish head of the Liberal Democratic Party, wasted no time in asserting sovereignty over disputed islands in the East China Sea, declaring them "Japan's inh ... read more


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