A new man in Tokyo | india | Hindustan Times
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A new man in Tokyo

Tokyo?s foreign policy has been increasingly assertive under Mr Koizumi, who dispatched Japanese forces to Iraq. Abe?s most difficult task will be repairing ties with South Korea and China.

india Updated: Sep 22, 2006 01:16 IST

It will not be easy for anyone to step into the shoes of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi as he says sayonara. The new premier-in-waiting, Shinzo Abe, is no exception, never mind the thumping majority with which he was elected leader this week by the Liberal Democratic Party that has governed Japan almost without interruption since 1955. At 51, Japan’s youngest post-War leader, Mr Abe will have to start off on the backfoot to take up his predecessor’s reform mantle. Mr Koizumi’s reforms helped Japan mount an astonishing economic comeback after more than a decade of being in the doldrums. It will not be easy for any successor to keep the momentum of the world’s second-largest economy going at the same clip.

Mr Koizumi’s stand-out personality helped him address several economic challenges with élan — be it taxation problems, the widening chasm between the rich and the poor, the huge government debt and a shrinking population. On his watch, unemployment dropped, the stock market boomed and a streamlined government cleared bad debt with the banks. Reforming the public corporations that run Japan’s highways and cheerleading a plan to do the same to the post office were all bold moves. It remains to be seen how Mr Abe balances them with his nationalist credentials.

Tokyo’s foreign policy has been increasingly assertive under Mr Koizumi, who dispatched Japanese Self-Defence Forces to Iraq on a non-combat mission. Mr Abe’s most difficult task will be repairing ties with South Korea and China, which have been damaged by Mr Koizumi’s annual pilgrimages to the controversial war shrine of Yasukuni. That said, Mr Abe may well use his predecessor’s roadmap to push the limits of Japan’s pacifist Constitution, going by his promises of ‘rewriting’ its anti-war commitment to allow troops to come to the aid of allies and ‘to introduce patriotism’ into the national curriculum. These are clearly based on calculations of common threats, particularly the rise of China.