Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would keep the door open to dialogue with China amid a lull in incursions by official Chinese ships into Japanese-controlled waters around a group of disputed islands.
Abe, 59, who is seeking to revive his nation’s role on the global stage through ending two decades of economic malaise and strengthening the military, spoke in an interview yesterday on the “Charlie Rose” show on PBS television. The previous day, he urged Wall Street to invest in Japan, promising that it will become a driving force for global recovery.
Relations with China soured a year ago when Japan bought three uninhabited islands also claimed by China. Since then, Chinese and Japanese patrol ships and planes had tailed one another through disputed East China Sea waters. The row has damaged trade ties between Asia’s two largest economies and no bilateral summit has been held since May of last year, although Abe shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 meeting earlier this month.
“We have to get closer and have this dialogue,” Abe said in the interview, according to a translation of his remarks, reiterating that “Our door to dialogue is open.”
No incursions by Chinese Coast Guard vessels into what Japan regards as its territorial waters around the disputed East China Sea islands or the immediately surrounding “contiguous zone” have been reported by Japan’s coast guard since two ships entered on Sept. 19. Prior to that, Chinese patrol boats had been an almost constant presence near the isles known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China since last September.
Faced with China’s growing military prowess, Abe has vowed during his visit to New York to make Japan a “proactive contributor to peace.” He has boosted defense ties with other Asian nations, increased the defense budget for the first time in 11 years and has ordered an overhaul of national security policy.
Abe has struggled with a plan to revise the U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution to legitimize Japan’s military and is now proposing a reinterpretation of the document to allow Japan to defend its allies.
“It is nothing different from what other countries are doing in the world,” he said, describing the possession of armed forces as “a natural right of a country” and adding that he would leave it to others to decide whether he should be described as “right-wing.”
Abe came to power in December on a platform of reflating an economy plagued by 15 years of deflation. The three-pronged strategy encompasses monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and a structural reform agenda designed to encourage companies to invest more in the domestic economy.
A challenge for Abe is to revive growth while putting the country’s finances on a sustainable footing, with public debt including borrowings reaching a record 1,008.6 trillion yen as of June 30, larger than the economies of Germany, France and the U.K. combined.
Next week he is set to announce whether he will go ahead with a planned increase in the sales tax to 8 percent from the current 5 percent, alongside a package of economic measures designed to offset the impact of the higher levy.