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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 September 2006, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Abe pledges 'assertive diplomacy'
Shinzo Abe sets out his plans in Tokyo
Mr Abe looks set to be Japan's next prime minister
Shinzo Abe, the man most likely to be Japan's next leader, has set out plans for a more assertive foreign policy.

Japan should be one of the nations making the rules, he said, and should continue to seek a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Mr Abe said he hoped to mend ties with China and South Korea, but promised a tougher line towards North Korea.

The conservative lawmaker is the favourite to succeed PM Junichiro Koizumi, who steps down this month.

Mr Abe, 51, is currently the chief cabinet secretary. He is the clear front-runner to win the 20 September contest for the Liberal Democratic Party presidency.

LEADERSHIP TIMELINE
20 Sept: LDP lawmakers and over one million LDP members elect party president
26 Sept: Party president almost certain to be elected PM by LDP-dominated parliament
30 Sept: Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi steps down

The other two contenders are Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki.

Whoever wins the ruling party presidency is almost certain to be the next prime minister.

'Sumo diplomacy'

Mr Abe, in a policy speech in Tokyo, said Japan's diplomacy should change.

"In the past, Japan often performed sumo (wrestling) to please foreign countries on a ring they made, abiding by their rules, in order to achieve our national interest," he said.

"As a leader, Japan should join setting the rules, creating the framework and develop a more assertive diplomacy."

The three candidates, from left Mr Aso, Mr Tanigaki and Mr Abe

He stressed Japan's quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, something for which Mr Koizumi has been campaigning.

On China and South Korea, he restated his hope of improving ties, saying "the doors are open" to them.

Japan's relations with the two nations have severely deteriorated over historical disagreements, including the issue of Mr Koizumi's visits to the war-linked Yasukuni shrine.

Mr Abe has refused to comment on whether he will continue the visits. His promise to revise the pacifist constitution is also unlikely to be welcomed by the two countries.

'Reactionists'

On North Korea, he pledged a tougher line, saying that there would be "no compromise".

"We should increase pressure on North Korea on our own and through international support, to warn the North that it cannot return to the international society without resolving the problem," he said.

As well as concern over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, Japan is demanding more information about Japanese nationals abducted by the North in the 1970s and 1980s.

Pyongyang says it has passed all the information to Tokyo, but Japan believes North Korea is not telling the truth, and the issue has become an extremely emotive one in Japan.

On Wednesday, North Korean state daily Minju Chosun condemned Mr Abe in a commentary.

"Japanese reactionists are trying to make today's Japan similar to past times when it invaded other Asian countries," the daily said. "At the head of this stands Abe."

North Korea has also announced it is pulling out of the synchronized swimming World Cup competition in Japan after three members of the team, including the captain, were banned from entering the country.

The North Korean swimming association denounced the move, calling it a "despicable and clumsy method for achieving their dirty political aims", state-run news agency KCNA reported.




SEE ALSO
Profile: Shinzo Abe
31 Oct 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan's Aso to contest leadership
21 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Questioning Koizumi's shrine visits
15 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan reshuffle hints at next PM
31 Oct 05 |  Asia-Pacific

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