Diaoyu Islands

Abe election victory in Japan sounds alarm in Beijing amid islands dispute

Conservative leader's hawkish rhetoric and statement on disputed islands puts Japan on a collision course with China

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 6:06am

Beijing reacted with alarm yesterday to the landslide victory of Shinzo Abe's conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Japan's election on Sunday and his immediate restatement of Tokyo's claim to a chain of disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Abe told a press conference yesterday that the Senkaku islands - known in China as the Diaoyus - were "Japan's inherent territory", reiterating comments made on Sunday after his victory was confirmed. "Japan owns and controls the islands … under international law," Abe said. "There is no room for negotiation on this point."

Beijing said it was ready to work with Japan on "further development of stable relations" but expressed alarm at where Abe was taking Japan.

"We are highly concerned about which direction Japan will take," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing. "The current task is now to properly handle the current issue [of the territorial dispute]."

Some mainland media called on Beijing to take a "firm stance" while others urged Japan's new leader to repair relations with China and other nations after an election campaign that featured nationalist sentiment.

However, some mainland analysts said that Abe's tough talk on China did not necessarily suggest that Japan's new government would adopt a tougher policy towards Beijing. "Abe and his ruling party are faced with a pressing need to mend the relationship between the two most important nations and biggest economies in the region, which will top his cabinet's agenda," said Wang Xinsheng , an expert in Japanese history at Peking University. "I believe Abe will make efforts to repair Sino-Japanese relations after coming to power again, even if it is just for Japan's economic interests."

Some analysts are hopeful that Sino-Japanese relations will not deteriorate, citing Abe's surprise visit to Beijing in October 2006, shortly after he was first elected prime minister, a mission which helped to mend ties.

"Despite his nationalist credentials and tough talk, which was mainly aimed at winning support from nationalist voters, Abe is a rather pragmatic politician who knows the importance of separating his hawkish campaign rhetoric from his policy priorities," said Professor Zhou Yongsheng , an expert in Japanese affairs at China Foreign Affairs University.

"Japan looks set to suffer more from a further straining of Sino-Japanese ties and Abe will have to take into account Japan's national interests in the long run and try his best to prevent current tensions from escalating into a full-blown diplomatic crisis."

But Lin Xiaoguang , a professor of international relations at the Central Party School, cautioned against such optimism, saying that Abe's statements during the election campaign about getting tough with Japan's Asian neighbours and revising Japan's pacifist constitution reflected his political beliefs.

"Whatever the purposes [of his rhetoric], Abe has made clear his political convictions, which are certainly cause for concern for China and other Asian neighbours," Lin said.

"While he may refrain from dramatic policy shifts in his dealings with China, it looks very likely that Tokyo, with Washington's support, will implement Abe's nationalist agenda and take provocative actions against Beijing."