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Japan's Abe Not Likely to Change Course as Next Prime Minister


Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is calling it quits next week after five years leading the country. His heir apparent is his top spokesman, Shinzo Abe, and political analysts say they expect few changes in policy under the new leadership.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe this month outlined his vision for Japan in vying for the post of prime minister:

Abe says his platform has two key words, innovation and openness, which will lead to growth and prosperity for the manufacturing and service sectors.

There are three candidates competing to lead Japan. But Abe, the clear frontrunner, is expected to be elected head of the Liberal Democratic Party on September 20, replacing Junichiro Koizumi, who will retire after five years as head of the party and prime minister. As head of the LDP, which dominates Parliament, the 51-year-old Abe would then become prime minister.

Political experts in Japan say Abe is not likely to move far from Mr. Koizumi's policies. During his term, Mr. Koizumi pushed hard to reform and revive Japan's lumbering economy. At the same time, he took a more assertive and nationalistic stance in foreign affairs, while maintaining Tokyo's tight alliance with the United States.

Abe has virtually no experience dealing with economic policy, which might limit any desire to alter current policies.

But Economics Minister Kaoru Yosano says that, even if Abe wanted to veer off course, the key domestic policies adopted under Mr. Koizumi are well entrenched. They include banking reforms and efforts to curtail government spending.

"The next prime minister will not be very far from the line Mr. Koizumi has taken for the last five years," he said. "Fiscal policy and economic growth policies have already been written. They cannot go far from these texts."

Abe, like Mr. Koizumi, is seen as a hawk on defense issues. He advocates expanding the role of Japan's military at home and giving it a more active role in multilateral peacekeeping abroad.

But Abe will face calls by business leaders here to improve relations with China and South Korea, which have long been strained by Japan's militaristic past is Asia. But ties have further soured in large part because of Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to a shrine honoring Japan's fallen soldiers, including convicted war criminals. Abe supported Mr. Koizumi's controversial pilgrimages but has not said whether he will go to the Yasukuni Shrine as prime minister.

The leaders of China and South Korea have refused to hold summit meetings with Mr. Koizumi because of the shrine visits.

Earlier this month, Abe said he thinks meetings should resume.

Abe says that Japan's economic relations with China and South Korea are good and a summit is needed to create a more mature relationship.

The chief Cabinet secretary's star rose higher when he forcefully condemned North Korea's missile tests in July. Abe secured a reputation as a tough negotiator with the North Koreans after he helped win the release of some Japanese civilians abducted by Pyongyang's agents during the Cold War era.

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