Japan's New PM Vows Tighter Ties with US

TOKYO - Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not sound triumphant even after his party was swept back into power over the weekend. 

"This victory doesn't necessarily mean that we have completely recovered everyone's trust," he said in a speech on Tuesday after his conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) defeated the center-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).  "I realize we are still being scrutinized by the public and with that sense of urgency, we must push forward and produce results."

Part of regaining that trust will likely be the new administration's expected overhaul its diplomatic strategy, starting with a revamp of Tokyo's relationship with Washington. Amid ongoing territorial disputes with Russia, South Korea and China, the incoming prime minister underlined the importance of U.S.-Japanese ties.

"I'm going to seek to strengthen Japan's alliance with the United States, which will ultimately contribute to the peace and stability of Asia," Abe said, adding that he had already spoken to President Barack Obama and was already making plans to visit Washington in January.

"In terms of our national security, we must restore the bonds found in our U.S-Japan security alliance and based on that, rebuild our diplomatic strength and improve relations with other countries," he said.

Critics of the DPJ have accused the outgoing party of allowing the key alliance to founder. A low point came after the government promised the people of Okinawa Island, which shoulders most of the United States' significant military presence in the country, to cancel plans to move a controversial American airbase to a less-densely populated area.

The Democrats initially insisted on removing the base altogether from Okinawa. Because hopes were raised among the population, and reinforced by local elections that brought lawmakers opposed the U.S's military presence on the island, it has been nearly impossible to reverse public opinion.

Then, friction with China came to a head in September when Japan nationalized a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that have been contested by Beijing.  Anti-Japanese demonstrations erupted in over 100 Chinese cities as a result of the moves.  Meanwhile, Chinese vessels have repeatedly encroached on Japanese territorial waters to stake their claim on the islands.

Indeed, it makes sense that Abe would try to strengthen its ties with the U.S. and bolster Japan's standing regionally, said Jeff Kingston, a professor at Temple University's Tokyo campus.

"I think he believes the DPJ mismanaged the alliance so he wants to go there and face Obama and find a way to strengthen ties," Kingson said.  "(Abe) wants to chat with the United States about the situation with China and exchange opinions about how to proceed."

"Japanese (people) outside of Okinawa want to strengthen ties with the United States because they understand they live in a dangerous neighborhood," he added.

In another move meant to bolster Japan's standing inside and out of Japan, Abe promised a large-scale supplementary budget to kick-start the country's anemic economy almost immediately.

The markets responded positively to the news, with shares trading at an eight-month high on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.  Meanwhile, the Japanese yen weakened internationally -- the country's strong currency has put the country's export sector at a significant disadvantage internationally.

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