Japan’s main opposition party picked former Japanese prime minister and security hawk Shinzo Abe as its new leader, giving him another shot at being prime minister and possibly alarming Beijing and Seoul, both locked in territorial disputes with Tokyo.
Opinion polls suggest that the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), ousted in 2009 after more half a century of almost non-stop rule, will come first in a lower house election expected within months.
That would put Abe in position to become the next prime minister and he wasted no time in laying out his credo, promising to protect Japan’s borders and revive its economy.
“Japan’s oceans and territory are being threatened and the economy has stagnated due to prolonged deflation and the strong yen,” he told a news conference after being chosen by party lawmakers. “It is my mission to overcome these difficulties and build a strong and prosperous Japan.”
Five years ago, Abe, 58, quit after a year in office, citing ill health, and many commentators had doubted his comeback.
All LDP leadership contenders had struck hawkish tones as a row with China flared this month after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government bought three disputed islets in the East China Sea from their private Japanese owner.
However, Abe has been the most vocal in urging Tokyo to take a tougher line in its territorial rows with China and South Korea.
As a member of a conservative camp that thinks Japan has apologized too much for its wartime past, Abe wants to replace a 1993 government statement apologizing to women forced to serve as sex slaves at wartime military brothels.
He also seeks the revision of an historic 1995 statement by then-Japanese prime minister Tomiichi Murayama apologizing for suffering caused by Japan’s wartime aggression.
Neither change would win friends among Asian neighbors.
However, when in office, Abe took a big step to repair Sino-Japanese ties, which soured under his predecessor, former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.
“We must show our will to firmly protect our territorial waters and Senkaku amid China’s movements. That said, when I took office as prime minister six years ago, I first visited China because the Japan-China relationship is very important,” Abe told reporters.