Shinzo Abe, seen as the strongest candidate for Japan's next prime minister, said yesterday the nation should boost ties with India and called on China to improve transparency on its military spending.
The powerful chief Cabinet secretary of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also indicated that he would continue to visit a controversial Tokyo war shrine that is at the center of strained relations with China.
"We need not only to look at Japan-China relations but also to have a bird's-eye view of the whole of Asia or the world when we engage in diplomacy with Asian nations," he told public broadcaster NHK. "For example, there is another Asian power -- India, which has common values with Japan such as freedom, democracy, basic human rights and rule of law.
"Our relations with India have been relatively weak though it is a country very friendly to Japan," he said, arguing that it was "important to strengthen ties with this country a lot more and forge strategic relations."
Abe said Australia was also a key partner in the region.
Noting that Japan's economic ties with China were indispensable, Abe said that Tokyo wanted Beijing to "improve transparency in the military domain, as its spending has been showing double-digit growth for more than a decade."
"Not only Japan but most other developed countries in the West think this way," he said, adding Japan also wanted China to "give more heed to human rights."
Appearing on a separate program, Seiji Maehara, the conservative head of the main opposition Democratic Party, defended his recent remarks that China is a "realistic threat."
"They have missiles capable of hitting Japan as well as nuclear weapons that set their sights on Japan," Maehara said.
He also noted the two neighbors were divided over energy reserves and sovereignty over a chain of islands in the East China Sea.
"Their military presence is growing against this background. We consider it a threat," he told a talk show on the private Asahi network.
Meanwhile, Abe said that he would continue to pay homage at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo despite Chinese protests.
"As a politician and [Japanese] citizen, I want to maintain my respect for the people who died for the country," he said.
"In principle I want to value this feeling and this feeling will not change," said the lawmaker, widely seen as a possible successor to Koizumi, who has vowed to step down as prime minister in September when his term as the ruling party president expires.
Since taking office in April 2001, Koizumi has angered China and South Korea by repeatedly visiting the Yasukuni shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 14 convicted war criminals.