Abe Moves Quickly to Improve Ties With South Korea and China

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has already taken his first steps to try to repair relations with South Korea and China.  Mr. Abe and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun spoke by telephone earlier this week and agreed to meet as soon as possible.  Leaders from the two countries have not met in almost a year.

Some reports said a visit to Seoul could take place before the middle of October.  And Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Mr. Abe may visit China as early as October.

Japan's parliament, the Diet, elected Mr. Abe on Tuesday to replace Junichiro Koizumi.  Mr. Koizumi left office after more than five years as prime minister.

South Korea and China were both victims of past aggression by Japan.  Relations have suffered in recent years, mainly because of visits by Japanese leaders to a memorial for Japan's war dead.

Several of those honored at the Yasukuni Shrine were found guilty of war crimes during World War Two.  Mr. Abe has refused to say if will visit the shrine as prime minister.

On other issues, he says he plans to continue the economic reforms started by Mr. Koizumi.  And he says he is serious about cutting government spending.  Mr. Abe reduced his own pay by thirty percent and his cabinet members' pay by ten percent.

He and President Bush spoke by telephone Wednesday.  They agreed to meet in November in Hanoi at the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group.  A White House spokeswoman said they expressed a desire to further strengthen the United States-Japan alliance.

Japan is a leading trading partner and security ally of the United States.  About fifty thousand American troops are based in Japan.  Mr. Koizumi sent Japanese troops to assist rebuilding in Iraq.  And Japanese ships provide fuel for the military operations in Afghanistan.

Shinzo Abe is fifty-two years old, making him Japan's youngest prime minister since World War Two.  He was recently elected president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.  The only cabinet position he has held was chief cabinet secretary.  But his grandfather and great-uncle were prime ministers and his father was foreign minister.

Mr. Abe gave his first policy speech in parliament Friday.  He rejected relations with North Korea until the issue of its kidnapping of Japanese citizens in the past is settled.  And he announced that Japan will study how it can take part in collective defense efforts with the United States.

Since the end of World War Two, Japanese forces have been constitutionally restricted in their activities.  Mr. Abe restated his desire to see the constitution changed as soon as possible.

And he talked about his desire to create what he calls a "beautiful nation."  Mr. Abe says he seeks a Japan that is trusted, honored and loved by the world and active in showing its leadership.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake.  Transcripts and MP3 files are at voaspecialenglish.com.  I'm Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English

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