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The New York Times
New Premier Seeks a Japan With Muscle and a Voice
By MARTIN FACKLER
Published: September 27, 2006
TOKYO, Sept. 26 — In his first act after being installed as prime minister, Shinzo Abe, a popular nationalist who has vowed to make Japan more assertive globally, appointed a cabinet on Tuesday packed with social conservatives and foreign-policy hawks.
Mr. Abe, 52, bowed deeply in front of lawmakers after winning 339 votes in the 476-member lower house, which selects the prime minister.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Abe’s predecessor and political mentor, Junichiro Koizumi, vacated the prime minister’s residence in central Tokyo after nearly five and a half years. Mr. Abe had been virtually guaranteed to succeed Mr. Koizumi, 64, since winning last week’s leadership election in the Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed Japan for most of the past half-century.
Mr. Abe is Japan’s youngest prime minister since World War II and the first to be born after the war. His ascension appears to be a changing of the guard in a country that has kept a low profile in international affairs since its defeat in 1945. He enters office riding a crest of popularity, as his message of renewed national pride has found followers amid the resurgence of Japan’s long dormant economy.
“Japan must be a country that shows leadership and that is respected and loved by the countries of the world,” Mr. Abe said Tuesday in his first news conference as prime minister. “I want to make Japan a country that shows its identity to the world.”
At the same time, Mr. Abe (pronounced AH-bay) said he wanted to improve relations with South Korea and China, which soured after Mr. Koizumi paid visits to a Shinto shrine honoring Japan’s war dead.
Mr. Abe called on the leaders of South Korea and China to meet with him, something both countries refused to do with Mr. Koizumi. So far, Mr. Abe has been vague about whether he will visit the shrine.
He told reporters that one goal of his administration was to revise Japan’s pacifist Constitution, written after World War II by American occupation forces, to permit a full-fledged military. He also indicated that he favored closer military cooperation with Washington. These goals have alarmed many here who worry that any upgrading of the status of the armed forces could damage ties with Asian neighbors, which fear a revival of Japanese militarism.
After winning leadership of the governing party last week, Mr. Abe reportedly spent several days holed up in his country retreat near Mount Fuji, drawing up his cabinet. His choices, said Tomoaki Iwai, a professor of politics at Nihon University, and others, gave a decidedly hawkish bent to the new administration.
Mr. Abe increased the number of advisers to the prime minister, adding new posts for national security, education and the issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea. Many of his appointees are in their 50’s, a decade younger than most cabinet ministers in the past.
One of the most watched appointments was to the new job of national security adviser, which went to Yuriko Koike, 54, a former television reporter. Ms. Koike has been a vocal supporter of the economic sanctions on North Korea linked to its refusal to provide more information on the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped two decades ago.
Another was the education adviser, Eriko Yamatani, 56, a critic of sex education and the teaching of “excessive” equality of the sexes in schools.
The new state minister in charge of sex equality, Sanae Takaichi, 45, has opposed allowing women to have different legal family names from their husbands, a freedom women sued to win in the late 1980’s.
The defense agency chief, Fumio Kyuma, a 65-year-old party veteran and a friend of Mr. Abe’s, and the foreign minister, Taro Aso, 66, who ran against Mr. Abe in last week’s leadership vote, retained their positions.
There are few political heavyweights in top economic posts, reflecting what some economists and political scientists said was a shift in priorities toward foreign policy and national security. Mr. Koizumi, in contrast, filled economic posts with prominent reformers like Heizo Takenaka, a former economics professor credited with fixing Japan’s debt-ridden banking system.
Mr. Abe said he wanted to continue Mr. Koizumi’s market-oriented reforms but also pledged to fight the growing discrepancies in incomes and opportunities that they have helped create. Mr. Koizumi’s critics blasted him for turning egalitarian Japan into an American-style society of winners and losers.
But Mr. Abe seemed to speak most forcefully on security issues, and on the need for Japan to have a larger voice in global affairs. One of his goals, he said, will be getting Japan a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.