Done hosting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe picked two veteran lawmakers with friendly ties to China for top party posts on Wednesday.
This was seen as an apparent signal of hope for a thaw in chilly ties with Beijing and a summit with Chinese
leader Xi Jinping.
China had reacted angrily on Tuesday to the Japanese cosying up to Modi, saying that if Japan attempted to form a united front centered on India, it will be “a crazy fantasy generated by Tokyo's anxiety of facing a rising Beijing”.
The comments, in the state-run Global Times tabloid, were in response to Modi’s visit to Japan and his comments on Monday against the forces of expansionism, widely seen as a swipe at China.
The change in executives in Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is part of a broad leadership rejig, including a cabinet reshuffle, which is aimed at strengthening party unity and polishing Abe's image.
Abe's new line-up faces a number of challenges, including how to repair ties with China that have been frayed by rows over disputed territory and Japan's wartime history, and whether to go ahead with a planned sales tax rise next year despite signs the economy is faltering.
In a bid for party unity, the hawkish Abe tapped outgoing justice minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, his predecessor as LDP leader, for the key party post of secretary-general, the LDP's de facto election campaign chief.
Tanigaki, 69, is from a moderate wing of the LDP that favours better ties with China.
Veteran lawmaker Toshihiro Nikai, 75, who also has close ties with China, was appointed to a second top party post.
"He is sending a strong message to China that he wants to improve ties," said political analyst Atsuo Ito.
Abe has signalled that he hopes to meet Chinese leader Xi at an Asia-Pacific leaders gathering in Beijing in November.
Before that meet, Modi hosts Xi late September, keenly aware of the need to engage in trade with China.
Abe, who surged to power promising to revive the economy and bolster Japan's security stance in the face of a rising China, has seen his support slip to around 50%, still high for a Japanese premier but off early peaks of around 60%.
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