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Chinese Agency Says Aso’s Election Poses New Test to Japan, China Ties

September 23, 2008

Text of report by Hong Kong-based news agency Zhongguo Tongxun She

[Special article by Hong Kong ZTS reporter Kung Ch'ao-wen: "Aso Takes Up Post of Japanese Prime Minister, Sino-Japanese Relations Encounter New Test"]

Beijing, 22 Sep (ZTS) – Taro Aso, secretary general of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, today expectedly won the party’s presidential election. He will on the 24th take over from Yasuo Fukuda, who earlier suddenly resigned, as Japan’s new prime minister. Foreign affairs analysts in Beijing opined: Compared with the moderate, rational Yasuo Fukuda, Taro Aso is a representative figure of Japanese hawks. His election will confront Sino-Japanese relations, which are showing a tendency to improve, with a new test.

Taro Aso, 68, once studied overseas – at the graduate school of the United States’ Stanford University and the UK’s London School of Economics and Political Science. Being proficient in English and having quite a few connections in the US political world, he is a typical representative of the pro-US faction in the Japanese political arena. As a representative of Japanese hawks, he repeatedly expressed fairly radical rightist opinions on public affairs. On the Yasukuni Shrine issue, which is very sensitive for the Chinese side, Taro Aso repeatedly expressed points of view catering to Japanese rightwing forces. He was also the only incumbent cabinet member who paid homage at the Yasukuni Shrine during its spring memorial festival in April 2005.

Foreign affairs analysts in Beijing pointed out: The sudden resignation of Yasuo Fukuda, the most moderate Japanese prime minister in recent years with regard to policy towards China, made the Chinese side feel deeply sorry. As a matter of fact, however, the Chinese side, which has been closely tracking developments in the political situation in Japan, was very clear about Yasuo Fukuda’s sluggish support ratings and hence took many proactive measures during Fukuda’s tenure of almost a year as prime minister. Through strong promotion by the upper echelons, both countries seized the opportune time to enable China-Japan relations to take on a fairly hopeful tendency of warming up again.

It is particularly noteworthy that Fukuda’s moderate policy towards China did not touch off objections in the country but instead won him quite some support. Therefore, Aso does not have a pressing political need to cool off China-Japan relations although he is somewhat different from Fukuda in policy ideas. , It is believed that he, also for the sake of the development of China- Japan relations as an interest of the whole, will not in the short term challenge the Chinese side on the issue of history. Kazuyoshi Akaba, member of the Japanese Diet and chairman of the New Komeito party’s international affairs committee, for one opined that (Aso) would be unable to serve as Japanese prime minister if he could not maintain good Japanese-Chinese relations or develop the relations. “I think he, for the sake of the interest of the whole, will not pay homage at the Yasukuni Shrine.”"With his political flexibility, Mr Aso will handle the issue well.”

To maintain the good development momentum of Sino-Japanese relations, the Chinese upper echelons recently intensively shouted propaganda. For instance, Chinese President Hu Jintao has already met twice with Japanese guests within this month. He stressed that it is very important to consolidate and develop the Sino-Japanese strategic reciprocal relationship and that the Chinese side highly values relations with Japan and appealed for enhancing strategic mutual trust, deepening mutually beneficial cooperation, and properly handling relevant sensitive issues to promote the development of relations between the two countries. Analysts indicated: This is an unequivocal signal and goodwill sent out to Fukuda’s successor by the Chinese side that hopes to continue the tendency for relations between the two countries to improve and develop.

However, analysts also pointed out at the same time: Although the frequent changes of Japanese prime minister are already nothing new, it needs to be pointed out that people cannot but be alarmed by the fact that Junichiro Koizumi, who stubbornly challenged China, was able to hold power for a long period of time but Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda, who persisted in improving Japanese-Chinese relations and having contact with China, both vanished as soon as they appeared and were very short-lived. As he still will be confronted with thorny internal affairs after assuming power, it is very hard to conclude that Aso, who has all along been relatively hard-line, will not open another way for himself by once again fanning the flames in China-Japan relations to divert Japanese public opinion’s interest from internal affairs once the situation becomes pressing or some new changes emerge.

Analysts pointed out: Sino-Japanese relations are still very fragile at the moment. In particular, the understanding and trust between the two peoples both urgently need to be further deepened. As far as the Chinese side is concerned, opposing Japanese leaders’ paying homage at the Yasukuni Shrine is a basic stand that will not change; at the same time, the pursuit of steady development of the Sino-Japanese strategic reciprocal relationship also will not change. However, it calls for considerable political wisdom to display a certain degree of flexibility while adhering to the principles. All in all, peace would bring benefits to both China and Japan, while confrontation would only harm both; if the leaders of both countries are able to see this clearly, we need not be too pessimistic about Sino-Japanese relations no matter who are in power.

Originally published by Zhongguo Tongxun She, Hong Kong, in Chinese 22 Sep 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.