Abe takes PM, tensions on horizon

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Abe takes PM, tensions on horizon


Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe bows after being named new prime minister at the lower house of parliament in Tokyo yesterday. [AP/YONHAP]

Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was formally named Japan’s new prime minister yesterday, amid concerns in Korea that Seoul-Tokyo relations could worsen once his far-right cabinet is in full control.

Abe’s rise comes after his LDP won a landslide victory in this month’s parliamentary election, returning to power three years after a defeat by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

The victory allowed Abe to easily win yesterday’s vote for prime minister.

The LDP and its small ally New Komeito Party do not hold a majority in the upper house but are striving for it in an election slated for next year.

Yesterday, Abe announced his cabinet lineup of 18 officials, including some that have in the past expressed controversial remarks related to women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II and Dokdo, Korea’s easternmost islets claimed by Tokyo as its own territory.

Yoshitaka Shindo, 54, former senior vice minister of economy, trade and industry, was named minister of internal affairs and communications, while Tomomi Inada, 53, a LDP member of the lower house, was named state minister in charge of administration reform.

Shindo and Inada, the newly appointed ministers, are known to be far-right politicians who were among a group of politicians who pushed forward a trip to Ulleung Island in August 2011 to figure out measures to strengthen its territorial control over the Dokdo islets.

Their entry was rejected by the Korean government at Gimpo Airport.

Also, Abe appointed others who have in the past denied Japan’s involvement in operating “comfort stations” during the war, including Ichita Yamamoto, 54, who was named state minister in charge of Okinawa and northern territories; Hakubun Shimomura, 58, named minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology; Keiji Furuya, 60, slated for National Public Safety Commission chairman as well as state minister in charge of solidifying social infrastructure; and Takumi Nemoto, 61, named state minister in charge of reconstruction.

“Examining closely the cabinet members, there could be ‘improper remarks’ made by them anytime [on issues related to ties with Korea],” said a diplomatic source.

Abe has pledged during the campaign several nationalistic policies, including revising the nation’s pacifist constitution to bolster Japan’s military capabilities.

He also vowed that he will scrap or reinterpret official statements issued by former leaders or officials that apologize for military atrocities during World War II, including the so-called Yohei Kono statement issued in 1993 admitting the Japanese military’s involvement in operating comfort stations in which the military forced Korean women into sexual slavery.

The LDP and the New Komeito Party won a two-thirds majority in the 480-seat lower house in the parliamentary election, allowing the lower house to enact bills rejected by the upper house.

With the Abe government officially kicking off, President Lee Myung-bak sent a congratulatory message yesterday, while at the same time urging peace and prosperity in the region.

“Korea and Japan have engaged in close cooperation and exchanges as close neighbors and friendly nations,” Lee said in his message yesterday. “Korea and Japan cooperating in a future-oriented manner is important for peace and prosperity for both countries, Northeast Asia and the world, and I look forward to cooperating closely and working hard for this.”

By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr ]

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