My Newz 'n Ideas Plus!
Monday, October 02, 2006


Abe's ambitions reflect his past

TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- Shinzo Abe, chosen by Parliament on Tuesday as Japan's next prime minister, comes from a line of high-profile politicians -- and it shows in his ambitions and policies.

Abe, 52, is grandson of the late Shintaro Abe, who rose to be foreign minister in 1982, but never realized the goal of becoming prime minister.

One measure of the younger Abe's ambition is the speed with which he has risen to the top of Japan's political heap. He joined Parliament only in 1993, and is Japan's youngest post-World War II prime minister, and the first born since the war.

Abe, who only got his first full Cabinet portfolio last fall, as chief Cabinet secretary, rose from relative obscurity to a household name in 2002 when he spearheaded Japan's efforts to win the release of citizens kidnapped by North Korea.

In terms of policy, Abe seems to have inherited much from his late grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who was arrested as a war criminal after World War II but was reinstated to become prime minister from 1957 to 1960.

Kishi was a strong supporter of ties with Washington and championed the passage of the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

Abe's policies reflect that background.

He has taken an unapologetic stance on Japan's behavior in the war, pushing for a renewal of patriotic education in public schools, backing textbooks that critics accuse of whitewashing Japan's wartime past and supporting visits to the Yasukuni war shrine -- which honors war criminals among the country's war dead.

Abe has also vowed to push for revision of the U.S.-drafted Constitution, which bans Japan from military action. The 1947 charter has never been revised, but Abe and others want to change it so the military can join operations abroad.

At the same time, Abe has declared full support for the alliance with the U.S. as the cornerstone of Japanese defense and foreign policies, and is known to be close to powerful conservatives in Washington.

Abe graduated from Tokyo's Seikei University in 1977 and studied politics at the University of Southern California. After a job at Kobe Steel, Abe entered political life as an aide to his father, and ran for Parliament after his father's death.

In 2002, he won political acclaim by pressuring North Korea into allowing five kidnapped Japanese citizens to return home for a brief visit. Then he argued successfully not to let them go back to North Korea as planned.

His economic policy is less clear. While he supports Koizumi's market reforms, he is under pressure in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to do something about the widening gap between rich and poor in Japan.

A prime challenge for Abe will be mending ties with Asia.

In his five years in office, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has taken a harder line in Japan's many territorial disputes with its neighbors and riled Asian critics by making annual trips to Yasukuni Shrine.

While Abe supports the shrine, his aides say they are working hard behind the scenes to arrange a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao as a step toward easing tensions.

<< Home