JAPAN
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Shinzo Abe

Japanese first lady Akie Abe seeks summit with Peng Liyuan at Apec

Akie Abe says leaders' wives can chat without the burden of national interests on their shoulders

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 September, 2014, 10:50pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 September, 2014, 7:43pm

Japanese first lady Akie Abe has told of her admiration for her "stylish and beautiful" Chinese counterpart, Peng Liyuan , and said she was hoping for a summit of their own on the sidelines of November's Apec meeting in Beijing.

Abe, who gave a series of interviews yesterday at the residence she shares with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also told how her husband sometimes did the dishes when she was busy.

I felt she is really beautiful and stylish and has an aura
AKIE ABE ON PENG LIYUAN

The outspoken first lady, who has been dubbed the "household opposition" in Japan for her penchant for speaking her mind, even offered insights on her husband's economic policy dilemmas and controversial military expansion plans.

Akie Abe, 52, is a rarity among Japan's first ladies, most of whom have been largely invisible. While her outspokenness wins praise from fans, some cynics suspect that the prime minister's aides welcome her role as softening the image of a leader seen by detractors as a nationalist with pro-business policies.

The daughter of a confectionary company magnate, Abe agreed that many people opposed her husband's policies, such as ending the ban on Japan's military fighting abroad that has been in force since Japan's defeat in the second world war.

The military plans have raised alarm in China and South Korea.

She said some critics told her they worry that her husband was leading the country to war. "But I tell them that definitely won't happen, so it's okay," she said.

Shinzo Abe has not held a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping since taking office due to Sino-Japanese feuds over territory and wartime history. He has called on Xi to meet on the sidelines of the Asia- Pacific leaders' gathering in November.

Akie Abe said she hoped for a sideline summit of her own, to meet Peng Liyuan, even if not one-on-one. She said first ladies could chat without the burden of national interests on their shoulders.

"I felt she is really beautiful and stylish and has an aura," she said, referring to a meeting with Peng last year at an Apec summit in Bali.

On economic policy, Akie Abe said Japan should consider cutting wasteful spending and boosting the economy before going ahead with a rise in the sales tax to 10 per cent, as her husband wrestles with just that decision.

"Considering the falling birth rate and ageing society, it probably can't be helped," she said of an eventual rise in the sales tax.

"I think there are still areas where, if not a waste, taxes are not being used properly and could probably be fixed," she added. "I can understand there are aspects that would be difficult if we don't raise the sales tax, but in my personal opinion, before doing that, shouldn't we put a bit of effort into the economy, fix what can be fixed and cut what can be cut?"

But she added: "This won't change just because I say so."

An initial rise in the sales tax to 8 per cent from April triggered a sharp contraction in the economy in the three months to June, raising doubts about whether Abe should go ahead with the second stage of the increase.

Akie Abe said she had urged the prime minister not to raise the levy in April, but to no avail.

Asked about it this time, she said: "I wonder."

In another departure from her husband's policies, Abe reiterated that she believed Japan should stop using nuclear power if alternative energy sources could be found, given the risks shown by the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

"Once an accident occurs, it is a terrible thing that cannot be undone," she said. "If there are alternative sources of energy, I would like them to stop [using nuclear power]. I'd like them not to restart off-line reactors."

On the home front, Akie Abe said her husband did chores when he could, including washing the dishes and taking out rubbish when she was too busy. But she is careful not to overburden the premier, who ended his first troubled term in 2007 after just one year due to ill-health.

Additional reporting by Associated Press