Sat, Sep 09, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Contest for Japan PM commences

WAY OUT IN FRONT The increasingly popular Shinzo Abe raked in 370 million yen (US$3.19 million) in donations for the ruling LDP last year


Candidates in the race to be Japan's next prime minister launched their campaigns on Friday, with front-runner Shinzo Abe calling for better ties with Asia but criticizing China and South Korea for refusing to hold a summit with Tokyo.

Abe, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and Foreign Minister Taro Aso are running for the presidency of the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Sept. 20, a position that guarantees their election by parliament as the next prime minister.

Abe, 51, currently chief Cabinet secretary and incumbent Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's right-hand man, said he supports an improvement in Tokyo's troubled relations with Asia.

"Japan's door is always open," he said, referring to a summit. "Leaders should hold talks when there are problems. To refuse to meet because of problems, that's the other way round."

The pro-Washington candidate also pledged to preserve Japan's expanding relationship with the US.

"Our security alliance with the US has brought us security, and has brought peace to the region," he said in a three-way debate with Aso and Tanigaki. "To improve relations with China and South Korea, I believe all sides must make efforts to take steps forward."

China and South Korea have demanded that Koizumi promise not to visit the Yasukuni war shrine, which honors war criminals along with Japan's war dead, as a precondition for a summit. Koizumi has refused.

Koizumi, who took office in April 2001, has said he would step down at the end of this month when his current term ends as head of the ruling party and prime minister. The LDP vote will be followed by a parliamentary vote for prime minister on Sept. 26.

The new premier will inherit a Japan in transition. Koizumi has greatly expanded diplomatic and military cooperation with the US, and has set in motion efforts -- such as revising the pacifist constitution -- to give his country its most assertive role in world affairs since World War II.

Abe also said he would make Japan's economy more international in character.

"We must make Japan more open, and stimulate investment from abroad. I will promote measures to increase investment from abroad to two or three times the current levels," Abe said.

more assertive

Abe pledged to push a more assertive foreign policy and take steps to amend Japan's pacifist Constitution.

It was unclear, however, how Abe's election would affect Tokyo's troubled relations with the rest of Asia, particular China and South Korea. He is a staunch supporter of Yasukuni, though he hasn't said whether he would visit there as prime minister.

Tanigaki, who has criticized Koizumi's Asian diplomacy and opposed the shrine visits, presented himself as the candidate who would repair the country's foreign policy woes.

"I will mend Japan's diplomatic relations with Asia," he said, also vowing to address public concerns about the economy and social security.

Nearly everything appeared to be pointing to Abe's victory.

Abe attracted ?370 million (US$3.19 million) in party donations last year, a 30 percent increase from a year earlier, the Yomiuri Shinbun said, citing growing support for his leadership.

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