By Chisa Fujioka
United Nations: Japan’s new prime minister, Taro Aso, signaled on Thursday he would work closely with countries sharing common values such as democracy but said relations with China and other Asian neighbours were key.
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly just a day after being confirmed as leader, Aso vowed to revive his economy, the world’s second biggest, which is skirting recession and facing fallout from the U.S. financial crisis.
“I am determined to work in solidarity with countries holding fundamental values in common and to share Japan’s experiences with nations strongly needing such support,” said Aso, a former foreign minister, who took over the leadership from Yasuo Fukuda after his abrupt resignation this month.
An outspoken conservative, Aso has been keen to bolster Japan’s role on the international stage, having proposed “an arc of freedom and prosperity” as foreign minister to help countries from Eastern Europe to Asia democratize and grow.
The idea, embracing countries sharing values of freedom, democracy and human rights, included India and Australia, but was seen by critics as seeking to isolate China.
Diplomatic experts, however, expect Aso to take a pragmatic approach with Beijing, as burgeoning economic ties prevail over disputes ranging from wartime history to regional rivalry. China replaced the United States as Japan’s top trade partner in 2007, with two-way trade totaling $236.6 billion.
In his speech, Aso called China and South Korea “important partners” and said Japan needed to nurture mutual gains and shared interests with the two, both of which harbor bitter memories of Japan’s wartime occupation.
He vowed to press for North Korea to abandon its nuclear programmes, saying the reclusive state’s pledge to do so had recently yielded “conspicuous lack of progress.”
He said he would pursue the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies in Japanese language and customs. Their fate has prevented the two sides from normalizing ties.
“In parallel with the actions that North Korea would take, I am prepared to take actions towards the resolution of the outstanding issues of concern between Japan and North Korea and the settlement of the unfortunate past between us,” he said.
But Aso may have little room to focus on world affairs, with speculation mounting for him to call a snap election in early November to seek a mandate with voters to break a deadlock in parliament.
While Aso’s ruling coalition holds a big majority in the lower house, policies have been stalled since the opposition won control of the upper house last year, allowing it to delay laws and block appointments.
The political paralysis has risked stalling policies at home such taxes and social security, although Aso told the U.N. that Japan would do its part to stabilize the world economy by reviving its own.
“The task ahead for Japan is already quite clear, namely, that Japan’s primary responsibility lies in invigorating its own economy,” he said.