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New Japanese PM Vows to Improve Relations with China


Shinzo Abe, 52, has become Japan's youngest prime minister since the Second World War. He told the nation that he wanted to improve relations with China and South Korea, and vowed to continue the structural reforms begun by his predecessor.

With the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) firmly in control of Japan's parliament, there was no doubt Tuesday who would be selected as prime minister.

Lawmakers cheered the announcement of the lower house vote showing LDP President Shinzo Abe defeating his rivals by a large margin.

Within hours of his election, Mr. Abe spoke to the nation, saying he would not back away from the reform program implemented by his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi. Abe instead vowed to accelerate administrative reform.

Mr. Abe also told reporters it is time to improve Japan's relationship with China and South Korea that deteriorated during the Koizumi administration.

Mr. Abe says improved Sino-Japanese relations are very important and he will make further efforts to this end.

The new prime minister reiterated his campaign pledge to make Tokyo a more equal partner in its security alliance with Washington.

Mr. Abe said the Liberal Democratic Party will study what constitutional changes might be needed to accomplish this.

The existing pacifist constitution was imposed on Japan by the United States following the Japan's defeat in WWII.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Abe announced his new cabinet. He kept Taro Aso in the post of foreign minister.

Aso told reporters that he believes the new administration will be able to achieve a Sino-Japanese summit, something that was not possible during Mr. Koizumi's five years in office.

China, along with South Korea, objected to Mr. Koizumi's repeated visits to a Tokyo shrine that honors Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals. The two neighboring countries saw the visits as a sign of lingering militarism, and relations deteriorated during Mr. Koizumi's tenure.

Lawmaker Yasuhisa Shiozaki, a fluent English speaker, a rarity in the Japanese political world, is the new chief Cabinet secretary and top government spokesman. Shiozaki will also hold a new post dedicated to resolving the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents during the Cold War.

Opposition party leaders predictably criticized the new Cabinet lineup, saying it will not be up to the task of making needed reforms, but some criticism is also coming from Mr. Abe's party.

Outgoing finance minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, who challenged Mr. Abe for the party leadership, says the new prime minister selected loyalists and this lack of diversity threatens party unity.

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