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Last Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006, 07:22 GMT 08:22 UK
Abe speech fails to clear the fog
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo

Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe steps on the podium to open his first press conference after forming his Cabinet in Tokyo on Tuesday night, Sept. 26, 2006.
Mr Abe's nationalism is worrying Japan's neighbours
Shinzo Abe set out a vision of the Japan he would like to create.

Using terms he has used many times in recent weeks he said Japan should be a "beautiful country".

It is a deliberately vague phrase which aims to appeal to the more nationalistic and conservative sections of the electorate without upsetting those who fear a resurgence of nationalism.

"I believe it's entirely possible to create a country brimming with attractiveness and vigour, while maintaining the noble virtues of the Japanese people," he said.

"I aim for a country that is trusted, revered and loved by the world and asserts its leadership."

It is the last part of that rhetorical flourish that will concern Japan's neighbours.

This is a theme Mr Abe has returned to time and again in the last few weeks - the need for a more assertive Japanese foreign policy.

To that end he made clear his desire for a swift revision of the country's pacifist constitution.

This was drawn up by the US when they occupied Japan after the end of World War II.

It prevents Japan taking any form of military action against an aggressor and does not allow it to keep military forces.

In fact, Japan spends $40bn a year on its state-of-the-art military known euphemistically as the Self Defence Forces.

Stepped-up role

Shinzo Abe regards the constitution as an anachronism and wants to move quickly towards a revision that would recognise the reality of modern Japan, a country he argues that is not a threat to its neighbours, but which should be able to take a more active role in world affairs.

Aware of the sensitivity of that approach, he made clear too his desire to pursue what he called relations of trust with Japan's important neighbours, China and South Korea.

But again there was little detail, only a brief passage in the speech, and no definitive statement on whether he plans to continue visiting the controversial Yasukuni shrine.

China has said it needs clarification on that issue before there can be any resumption of summit-level talks between the leaders of the two countries, and this speech will have left Beijing none the wiser.

Mr Abe said he wanted to strengthen the Prime Minister's Office to allow it to become what he described as the "control tower" for issues of diplomacy and national security.

Some might say that even after this speech, much of the tower appears still shrouded in fog.

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