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Japan's New Leader Unveils Policies


Japan's new prime minister has unveiled his new administration's policy. While encouraging patriotism at home and pushing to revise the country's pacifist constitution, Shinzo Abe also expresses the hope for better ties with neighboring nations that are wary of a resurgent Japanese nationalism.

Three days into his term as prime minister, Shinzo Abe gave his inaugural policy speech in Japan's lower house of parliament on Friday.

In the address Mr. Abe called for better relations with Japan's neighbors, especially China and South Korea.

The prime minister says such ties should be based on mutual trust and that it is important to establish a forward-looking relationship to allow a frank exchange of views. He also mentioned Australia and India as two democratic countries with which he will strive to build closer relations.

During the five-year tenure of Mr. Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, relations chilled with Beijing and Seoul, in large part due to Mr. Koizumi's annual pilgrimages to a shrine where Japan's war dead are revered.

Mr. Abe has refused to say whether he will visit the shrine as prime minister.

Mr. Abe earned his biggest round of applause during the 33-minute address when he brought up North Korea, a country with which Japan has no diplomatic relations.

Mr. Abe says Japan will not establish formal ties with the communist state until the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents during the Cold War is resolved.

The new prime minister also did not disappoint his fellow hawks in parliament when he announced that Japan will study how it can participate in collective defense efforts with the United States - something his liberal opponents say is unconstitutional.

Mr. Abe reiterated his desire to see changes to the country's pacifist constitution as soon as possible.

There was a nationalistic tinge to his remarks. He said one of the objectives of education in Japan should be to build national dignity. He also said Japan should assert its leadership capabilities abroad. Japanese prime ministers, mindful of the country's militarist past and the wounds caused by its brutal colonization in Asia have avoided such overt expressions of patriotism since the end of World War II.

In his address, Mr. Abe repeated his mantras of creating a "beautiful nation" and "no fiscal reform without growth." He said he would reduce government spending and continue with the economic reforms of the Koizumi administration. But he also hinted at the possibility the consumption (sales) tax would be raised.

Concern has been raised that Mr. Abe's pro-growth strategy will not be enough to trim Japan's ballooning public debt, the worst among major industrial nations.

Mr. Abe Friday also unveiled a plan to target high-technology industries for government support to help Japan remain competitive.

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