Fri, Sep 22, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Newspapers caution Abe on new job

AFP , TOKYO

Japan's next prime minister Shinzo Abe got to work yesterday on his 52nd birthday amid warnings he must overcome a lack of experience to survive in the shadow of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Abe, who will be Japan's youngest prime minister and the first born after World War II, started his job as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) by visiting former LDP premiers to seek their support.

"I feel refreshed," Abe told reporters, one day after overwhelmingly winning a party vote to succeed Koizumi as LDP president.

Abe will assume office on Tuesday in a special session of parliament.

Newspapers warned that Abe has much to prove after replacing the popular Koizumi, who stayed in power for more than five years and rammed through far-reaching economic reforms.

The Asahi Shimbun pointed out that Abe has less than one year as a minister in his 13-year career as a lawmaker.

"Can he easily handle this complicated world after the end of the Cold War? We have doubts about it," said the influential liberal daily, which has sparred with the conservative Abe in the past.

Abe, a third-generation politician, rose to prominence as a hardliner on North Korea.

China and South Korea have refused to deal with Koizumi due to his annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine. Abe has strongly supported his pilgrimage but refused to say if he will go as prime minister.

China said it was up to Abe to improve relations.

"We hope the new Liberal Democratic Party leader can match his words with action and make sincere efforts to improve and develop bilateral relations," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang (秦剛) said yesterday in a statement.

The Yomiuri Shimbun said in an editorial that Abe "failed to present clear-cut views on the issue of the Yasukuni shrine and the recognition of the nation's history."

"His strategy seems to have been to avoid raising the issue during the campaign, instead preferring to hide behind ambiguities," the top-selling conservative daily said. "However, when he becomes prime minister, Abe will not be able to take such an ambiguous attitude."

He has refused to talk openly about his views on the past, but he has hinted he feels Japan has apologized enough for its wartime atrocities.

Abe has also kept silent on most of his economic ideas. He has said he supports Koizumi's free-market reforms but that he wants to help weaker segments of society left out of the economy's recovery.

Abe "has never directly managed the nation's economic policies, and we are deeply concerned about this," the Yomiuri said.

"Abe needs a strong team that will put business first because he will inherit a number of important issues left unfinished by the Koizumi administration," the paper said.

It said Abe's victory in the LDP's poll was merely based on his personal appeal which lawmakers need ahead of next July's upper house election.

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