President-elect doesn’t trust Japan’s Abe

Shinzo Abe

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s next prime minister, should give up tentative approaches and address neighboring countries’ concerns about his declared intention of revising Japan’s pacifist Constitution, experts and officials of the ruling Saenuri Party said Sunday.

Abe, who will head the new government after his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won the recent lower house election, offered to send an envoy to Seoul, which was rejected by President-elect Park Geun-hye.

In her post-election press conference, Park hinted at no drastic change in Seoul’s current standoffish stance following diplomatic flare-ups with outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party.

Abe has postponed his plan to have the central government host “Takeshima Day.” Takeshima is the name Japan had given to Korea’s Dokdo Islets, which it claims as part of its territory.

“This, together with the proposal of sending an envoy, has aspects of congratulating Park’s victory and offering reconciliation to Seoul,” said Ha Jong-moon, a professor at Hanshin University’s department of Japanese studies.

But there is a key need to look Abe’s gift horse in the mouth.

First, whether or not Abe will push to celebrate Takeshima Day is under scrutiny as the Feb. 22 date comes just before Park’s Feb. 25 inauguration.

Insiders say Park has every reason to question the true motives behind the decision which came without a prior notice.

Abe announced his plan to send special envoys to both China and Russia despite the ongoing territorial flare-ups with the two neighbors. He also put off his earlier plan to permanently dispatch a government official to the Senkaku Islands, called the Diaoyu Islands by the Chinese, in the East China Sea.

Experts say Abe does not want diplomatic spats to intensify any further at least until the upper house election in July 2013.

“Japan’s new government led by Abe will have to prepare for the upper house election if he really wants to achieve the final goal of revising the Constitution,” Ha said. “Reviving Japan’s plunging economy is currently his utmost priority.”

Japanese voters picked Japan’s underperforming economy as their top concerns when voting in the Dec. 16 lower house election. Only around 10 percent chose national security issues as their main concern.

“This will hold the Abe government back from adopting far-right policies until the July election,” said Ha.

A two-thirds majority status in the upper house is essential to allow Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to revise the Constitution and normalize its “self-defense military.”

The ruling Democratic Party of Japan currently holds a majority there.

Together with its ally in the New Komeito Party, the LDP successfully garnered 325 seats in the 480-seat lower house in the latest election.

Under Japan’s Constitution, two-thirds of lawmakers in both the lower and upper house should support any changes to it. <The Korea Times/Chung Min-uck>

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