Shinzo Abe returns after snap election

By Kyoko Hasegawa, AFP

TOKYO–Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised Wednesday at the start of his new term to revive Japan’s economy so he can pursue ��powerful diplomacy,�� but China’s state media warned him to be wary about changing the pacifist constitution. The lower house voted overwhelmingly to confirm 60-year-old Abe, with 328 votes against 73 for acting opposition leader Katsuya Okada. That was followed by an upper house poll that officially endorsed Abe as premier following his sweeping election victory this month. His new cabinet was largely unchanged with Taro Aso returning as deputy premier and finance minister, Fumio Kishida as foreign minister and Yoichi Miyazawa in the industry minister post. Industry is a key portfolio that oversees Japan’s nuclear power sector, as Abe looks to restart more atomic reactors shuttered after the 2011 meltdown crisis at the Fukushima plant. The only new face was Gen Nakatani, replacing Akinori Eto as defense minister after Eto declined reappointment in the midst of a political funding scandal. Nakatani, 57, headed the defense agency �X later upgraded to a ministry �X in 2001-2002. On top of trying to kick-start the world’s number three economy, Abe has vowed to pursue a nationalist agenda, including persuading a skeptical public of the need to revise the constitution. He wants Japan’s powerful military to have the power to come to the aid of allies such as the United States if U.S. forces are attacked.

The attempt to alter the charter, imposed by the U.S. after the end of World War II, ��is a historic challenge but it is difficult to do,�� Abe told a news conference late Wednesday. His efforts have proved divisive at home and strained already tense relations with China. ��Abe and his new defense minister … need to tread carefully,�� China’s official Xinhua news agency said Wednesday. ��The two both advocate a stronger role for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (military), and the international community should keep a wary eye on them and constantly remind them not to go too far.�� Relations, however, have begun to thaw after a more than two-year chill that Beijing blamed partly on Abe’s provocative nationalism, including a visit to a controversial war shrine, and equivocations on Japan’s wartime record of enslaving women for sex.