TOKYO (AFP) - Japan’s newly-elected prime minister Shinzo Abe pledged to rebuild the economy and mend Japan’s alliance with the United States in the face of an assertive China at his first press conference on Wednesday.
Abe was elected premier by the lower house of parliament earlier in the day after sweeping to power on a hawkish platform of getting tough on diplomatic issues while fixing the economy.
“A strong economy is the source of Japan’s national strength. Without a strong economy, Japan will not achieve fiscal reconstruction and have a future,” Abe told the late-night press conference.
Earlier Wednesday, the yen had tumbled against the dollar on growing speculation that the Bank of Japan will usher in further easing measures - a key plank of Abe’s campaign. Abe stressed that his government will carry out a diplomacy drive to “win back” national interests.
“There are many issues in the Japan-China relations, the Japan-South Korea relations as well as the Japan-US relations, which is the foundation of Japan’s diplomacy,” he told the press conference.
“More than anything, we must re-establish the trust in the Japan-US alliance,” he said, adding that he has spoken with US President Barack Obama and agreed to foster long-term relations. Relations with the US came under strain under the previous government, which pushed for the relocation of American bases in Okinawa.
Abe also said that his cabinet would stay focused on the reconstruction of the northern region that was devastated by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011. “By delivering results as soon as possible, I would like to earn the trust of the Japanese people and make this a stable government,” he said. Abe achieved a resounding election victory earlier this month for his Liberal Democratic Party over the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).
On Wednesday he secured 328 votes to 57 for the DPJ’s new leader Banri Kaieda, the industry minister during last year’s Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Within hours of his election, Abe, who was prime minister from 2006 to 2007, unveiled his new cabinet as he rushed to draft an extra budget.
Taro Aso, another former prime minister in Japan’s revolving-door political system, was tapped as both Abe’s deputy and finance minister.
The foreign minister job in the new cabinet went to Fumio Kishida, who was a state minister in charge of Okinawan affairs during Abe’s previous tenure.
His appointment was seen as a reflection of Abe’s desire for progress on the relocation of US military bases in the southern island chain, and comes as Japan is embroiled in a territorial row with China.
The defence portfolio went to Itsunori Onodera, who served as deputy foreign minister for a year during Abe’s earlier premiership and during that of his successor Yasuo Fukuda.
Sadakazu Tanigaki, the head of the LDP when the party was in opposition after ruling Japan for most of the past six decades, became justice minister.
Abe, Japan’s seventh premier in less than seven years, replaces Yoshihiko Noda whose DPJ suffered a stinging defeat at the polls.
The party, which came to power in 2009, was seen as being punished for policy flip-flops and its clumsy handling of the Fukushima atomic disaster.
Abe won conservative support with nationalistic pronouncements on diplomacy amid the row with Beijing over a group of East China Sea islands, saying Japan would stand firm on its claim to the chain.
He has also said he would consider revising Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution, alarming officials in China and South Korea.
But Abe quickly toned down the campaign rhetoric and has said he wants improved ties with China, Japan’s biggest trading partner. He called for a solution through what he described as “patient exchanges”.
China called on Abe to meet it “halfway” to try and improve relations that have been hurt by the debilitating territorial dispute.
South Korea has its own islands dispute with Japan. But President Lee Myung-Bak sent Abe his congratulations, saying the countries have engaged in “close cooperation and exchanges as close neighbours and friendly nations”.
Analysts said Abe was likely to delay drastic policy measures ahead of upper house elections next year, while the LDP’s moderate junior coalition partner New Komeito could also balance his right-leaning instincts.