Abe talks tough: Senkaku islands belong to Japan

PM-elect accuses outgoing DPJ govt of flawed approach in China ties

TOKYO - In a move sure to anger Beijing, Prime Minister-elect Shinzo Abe has insisted that no other country has claim to the Senkaku islands, indicating that his remarks during campaigning were not mere electioneering.

"The Senkaku group is Japanese territory and, in the eyes of the international community, belongs to Japan and is effectively controlled by us. On this point, there is no room for negotiation," he told a press conference here yesterday.

Mr Abe is slated to be elected prime minister on Dec 26, following Sunday's landslide win by his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Yesterday, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong congratulated Mr Abe on his party's "resounding victory".

"Singapore remains committed to a peaceful and prosperous Asia, and believes that Japan has a major contribution to make in building such a region," Mr Lee said in a letter. "We will work closely with Japan in Asean and other multilateral fora to achieve this goal," he added.

Given Mr Abe's reputation as a nationalist, his return to power - he was premier once before from 2006 to 2007 - has been greeted in Beijing and Seoul with trepidation. During campaigning, he had called for a stronger response to China's claim to the Senkakus, which China calls Diaoyu.

Japan's nationalisation of the islands in September triggered anti-Japan protests throughout China, some of them violent. Mr Abe blamed the outgoing administration under the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) for its flawed approach to dealing with China.

"The DPJ took a very narrow approach, hurting our interests and spoiling bilateral ties. Japan- China ties should be seen in the context of 21st century diplomacy and security," said the Japanese leader.

"We need to deepen our ties with the rest of Asia, including India and Australia, not only in diplomacy but also in security and energy. In that context, we look at the importance of ties with the Chinese. Only the LDP can take such a strategic approach," he said.

He reminded Beijing that Japanese investments in China helped to create some 10 million jobs and that China also imports technology from Japan to make products for export to the world.

Asked whether he planned to visit the notorious Yasukuni war shrine during his term, Mr Abe became guarded. "For diplomatic reasons, I should not talk about this issue now," he said.

When he became premier in September 2006, Mr Abe made a sudden trip to Beijing on a mission to improve ties, strained by annual visits to Yasukuni by his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi.

But this time, Mr Abe is eyeing a visit to Washington to rebuild the Japan-US security alliance, which he said had been wrecked by the DPJ government.

On the domestic front, Mr Abe's intention to put together a large-scale extra budget to get the economy out of deflation boosted trading of Tokyo stocks. The Nikkei index yesterday closed at 9,828.88, the highest in almost nine months.

Mr Abe also plans to reinstate an economic advisory panel, mothballed by the DPJ, that would in- clude Bank of Japan governor Masaaki Shirakawa. Mr Abe wants Mr Shirakawa to work closely with the government on economic stimulus measures.

Mr Abe will also appoint Professor Emeritus Koichi Hamada of Yale University as a Cabinet adviser. An expert on international finance, Prof Hamada is said to be critical of the current monetary policies of the Bank of Japan.

Prof Hamada, who once taught Mr Shirakawa at Tokyo University in the early 1970s, has said that his former student "has forgotten the right kind of economics".

wengkin@sph.com.sg