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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 October 2006, 06:27 GMT 07:27 UK
Abe works on neighbourly ties
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo

Shinzo Abe in Parliament 3/10/06
Mr Abe's meetings are unlikely to be easy
Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been clear from the start that he wants to mend fences with China and South Korea.

There are several good reasons to try.

China and Japan are both major powers now, competing for influence and resources.

Japan needs to resolve arguments over who owns what could be valuable oil and gas fields which its neighbours also claim.

And there are various other territorial disputes to be sorted out.

China and Japan's exclusive economic zones (EEZs) overlap
Japan claims EEZ extends 200 nautical miles from its shore, while China claims EEZ extends to edge of its continental shelf
Two countries have never agreed a maritime border
The UN says it will arbitrate by May 2009
Also dispute ownership of Senkaku/Diaoyu islands

Also, Japan and the United States want to ensure there is a more co-ordinated response to any future threats or acts of aggression by North Korea. They need to work more closely with the authorities in Beijing and Seoul.

And at home, Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party's difficulties with its Asian foreign policy has been a weakness in recent months that the opposition has been keen to exploit.

Holding summit meetings with other Asian leaders will strengthen his position as prime minister.

These will not necessarily be easy meetings for him, though.

Mr Abe is a conservative and a nationalist. That does not make him a natural ally for the more left-leaning President Roh Moo-hyun in South Korea.

And China has made clear all along that the issue of whether he will visit the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japan honours its war dead, still needs clarification.

He is likely to be pressed on that point.

It is 18 months since the last meetings between Japanese and Chinese leaders, a year since the Japanese last held summit talks in South Korea.

By any measure the fact that they are all talking again is progress.

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