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Last Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006, 05:49 GMT 06:49 UK
Japan PM seeks better Asian ties
Japan's new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe
Mr Abe wants to revise the pacifist constitution
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made clear his determination to repair relations with his Asian neighbours.

In his first policy speech since taking office, he said he wanted to strengthen ties with China and South Korea.

Mr Abe told the lower house of parliament that he wanted to emphasise patriotism and hard work at home, with a more assertive presence abroad.

But he ruled out diplomatic relations with North Korea until the issue of Japanese abductions had been resolved.

The time has come for our nation to shift toward more assertive diplomacy based on a new thinking
Shinzo Abe

Japan's relations with China and South Korea have deteriorated sharply since Mr Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, took office in 2001.

Both countries were infuriated by his visits to the controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honours war criminals alongside Japan's war dead.

Mr Abe has yet to make clear whether he will continue the visits.

'Relations of trust'

Mr Abe set out a series of political ambitions that reflect his stance as a conservative and nationalistic politician.

According to the BBC correspondent in Tokyo, Chris Hogg, this was an opportunity to reaffirm his ideology.

JAPAN'S MILITARY
Soldiers from the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force(JGSDF) take part in a drill at a desert in Northern Kuwait, 16 November 2004.
Japan's constitution currently renounces the use of force
This has been stretched to allow self-defence troops
1992 law allowed troops to join UN and relief work overseas
2003 law said troops could go to non-combat zones in Iraq
PM Koizumi wants to give Japan even greater powers

He said he wanted to move quickly towards a revision of the country's pacifist constitution, and called again for reform of the education act to promote patriotism in the classroom.

"The time has come for our nation to shift toward more assertive diplomacy based on a new thinking," he said.

Mr Abe, Japan's first prime minister born after World War II, said a constitution that was "more suitable to a new generation" was needed.

He reiterated his intention to continue with his predecessor's economic reforms, promising to cut government expenditure before raising taxes.

He also spoke of the need to pursue what he called "relations of trust" with Japan's neighbours, China and South Korea.

Reports suggest he may visit Seoul for a summit meeting with President Roh Moo-hyun as early as next week, after the two men agreed by telephone to hold discussions soon.

Mr Abe also promised to step up co-operation with the United States on mutual security issues, and to continue to co-ordinate with Washington closely on North Korea.

But he said he would not re-establish diplomatic relations with Pyongyang until the unresolved issue of the Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s was resolved.


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