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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 28, 2006

Abe can press Japan toward aims of peace

Conservative Shinzo Abe's succession as Japan's prime minister, after maverick Junichiro Koizumi, holds out the prospect of some needed political calm.

This by no means diminishes the colorful Koizumi's role in revitalizing both the economy and his own Liberal Democratic Party through privatization, spending cuts and other reforms.

Koizumi also has advanced his nation's goal of becoming more of a player in the international arena. Japan has taken part in multilateral military missions to Afghanistan and Iraq, has joined with the U.S. in developing an anti-ballistic missile system, and has conducted its own diplomatic initiatives.

But more recently, regional diplomacy has faltered because of lingering territorial tensions between Tokyo and Seoul. And relations with China are strained amid the perception that Japan's aims have grown more militaristic.

So, it's a hopeful sign that Abe, Japan's first premier born in the postwar era, has placed a priority on holding summit meetings with China and South Korea and forming what a cabinet minister described as "a cornerstone of stability in East Asia."

Stability is precisely what also will serve the best interests of the U.S., whose defense capability already is thinning as it stretches to cover demands elsewhere. So the Bush administration must encourage Abe to fulfill his pledged goal of normalizing regional relations.

This is a delicate task. Harsh rhetoric on regional flash points, such as the controversial visits to Yasukuni Shrine, should be approached with a measure of respect. Taking a separate tack supporting conciliatory gestures toward Korea and China, for example would be more productive in easing tensions. And backing Japan's pursuit of a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, an honor that might make nationalistic posturing less necessary, would do more to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance.

The message, conveyed diplomatically, should be that Japan's aims are best realized through policies that are sensitive to its neighbors.