China Friction Awaits Abe as He Says Disputed Isles Are Japan’s

Japan’s incoming prime minister Shinzo Abe reiterated his country’s claim to islands at the center of a dispute with China, where state media called on him to repair bilateral relations frayed by the disagreement.

A day after his Liberal Democratic Party reclaimed power in a landslide, Abe called China “an essential partner for economic growth.” At the same time, he insisted that the sovereignty of the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, wasn’t an issue.

China’s media response to the election ranged from cautious to stern, with the English-language Global Times saying Chinese leaders must take a “firm stance” toward him. Bilateral relations are at their lowest point since 2005 over the disputed islands, with China stepping up sea and air patrols, and Abe seeking greater control over the chain.

“If this friction creates a spark that leads to a major showdown, that would be unwise and tactless,” Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Peking University in Beijing, said in a phone interview. “Maybe Shinzo Abe’s victory will offer a moment for both sides to reconsider what sort of compromise could be reached.”

The LDP, which held power for a half-century of almost unbroken control until it was ousted in 2009, yesterday swept aside Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan. The result ensures Abe will replace Noda, returning him to the office he left in 2007 after a year due to illness.

The idea of Abe as Japan’s leader “has left quite a few people wondering whether Sino-Japanese ties will suffer further setbacks,” Lu Chao, director of the Border Area Research Institute, wrote in the China Daily today.

Summit Unlikely

At a nationally televised press conference today, Abe called the relationship with China “one of the most important for Japan,” while adding that “we are not in a situation where we could hold a summit straight away or I could visit China.”

Abe has called for “unlimited” easing by the Bank of Japan (8301) to combat more than a decade of deflation. That policy risks lowering the credit rating of Japanese government bonds, the China Economic Information Daily said.

Japan’s incoming leader, the seventh in six years, faces a “rotten” economic situation and needs to improve Japan’s relations with other nations, according to a commentary published in the People’s Daily, written by Zhong Sheng, who wasn’t identified.

The LDP’s manifesto maintains Japan should step up control over the disputed islands and consider stationing officials there permanently. It also promises to boost the presence of police, coastguards and military personnel on Japan’s southwestern islands in general. Abe wants to increase defense spending and change the constitution to legitimize Japan’s maintenance of armed forces, reversing postwar pacifist policy.

Handling Issues

Japan should seriously handle issues related to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, where World War II war criminals are memorialized, the islands dispute and the country’s constitution, according to commentary in the People’s Daily.

Some Japanese political officials behaved “extremely irresponsibly” during the election and used a sluggish domestic economy to arouse nationalist sentiment, the People’s Daily said, without naming them.

“Once Abe takes office, China should let him know about its firm stance,” the Global Times said today. “Only with such pressure will Abe hold China in esteem, otherwise he will think China is in a weak position.”

Still, Lu in the China Daily wrote that Abe is an experienced statesman and may seek to restore Sino-Japanese relations.

‘Better Neighborhood’

“We cannot choose our neighbors but we can work with them to create a better neighborhood,” he wrote. “Adopting good- neighborly policies is the common aspiration of wise leaders and making enemies out of neighbors is bad diplomacy that can never enjoy popular support.”

Abe worked to mended ties with China during his initial time in office by heading there on his first foreign trip. Ties had chilled during the previous five years due to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s annual visits to Yasukuni.

In order to maintain the “peaceful root” planted in past years, the LDP should face up to the past, respect the postwar international order, and stop the expansion of the nation’s extreme-rightist force, by Xinhua News Agency said in an article today written by Feng Wuyong, who wasn’t identified.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jason Scott in Canberra at jscott14@bloomberg.net; Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo at ireynolds1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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