Japan's new PM Shinzo Abe returns to high office


Shinzo Abe has been voted in as Japan’s new prime minister, five years after he quit the post in ignominy and tears.

Deputies in the lower house, where Mr Abe’s Liberal Democrats (LDP) and its coalition partner have a two-thirds majority, overwhelmingly approved his election yesterday, making him the nation’s seventh prime minister since 2006.

The vote gives the new leader a mandate to take a tougher line with China, and tackle Japan’s stagnant economy, which has entered its fourth recession since 2000.

‘Self-Defence Forces’

Mr Abe has promised to spur growth with a huge boost in public works spending and to jolt Japan out of years of deflation by persuading the country’s central bank to print billions of extra yen.

During the general election this month he pledged to revise Japan’s constitution, which renounces war, and to build the nation’s “Self-Defence Forces” into a more robust army.

The LDP’s coalition partner, New Komeito, a Buddhist-backed party with pacifist roots, has since agreed to allow a parliamentary commission to discuss constitutional change, but it is thought to be lukewarm on the issue.

Any attempt to alter the constitution is likely to have a big impact on Japan’s relations with China and South Korea.

Mr Abe has promoted several hawkish allies to key cabinet posts, including Yoshihide Suga as chief cabinet secretary and former prime minister Taro Aso as minister for finance. New education minister Hakubun Shimomura is known to share Mr Abe’s controversial revisionist views on Japan’s war history.

Revisionist views

But analysts say he has also been careful to signal a potential diplomatic route out of the stubborn territorial disputes with Beijing and Seoul.

Fumio Kishida, an experienced negotiator and veteran of several cabinets, is the country’s new foreign minister.

Newspaper editorials in Asia have reacted cautiously to Mr Abe’s political resurrection. Hong Kong daily Ming Pao called him “a hard-right figure” who might, nevertheless, break the deadlock with China. Tokyo and Beijing have been at loggerheads for months over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

The Korea Times said Mr Abe’s return signalled that “dark clouds are gathering in north-east Asia.” and that South Korea had to be concerned about the possible negative influence Mr Abe’s re-emergence would have on peace in the region.

The cabinet of outgoing prime minister Yoshihiko Noda resigned ahead of yesterday’s vote, sealing the return of the LDP which governed Japan for over half a century until 2009.