TOKYO - In an important policy speech Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned his focus squarely to the need for a strong defense and diplomatic posture, calling on China to refrain from "dangerous acts," and rejecting outright that any territorial dispute exists between the two countries that needs to be resolved.
Opening his speech with a call for a strong, independent Japan, Abe went on to say, "There is no ownership dispute that requires resolution," since the Senkaku Islands "clearly belong to Japan." The islands are also claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu.
Mr. Abe characterized an incident in January when Chinese naval vessels locked weapons radar on a Japanese vessel a "dangerous act that can escalate matters." China denies official knowledge of the incident.
The speech was the second part of a broad, two-part policy outline. Unlike the first part delivered Jan. 28, it was light on economic matters, barely touching upon the so-called "Abenomics" approach of unlimited monetary easing and economic pump-priming that were the cornerstones of last month's speech.
While he offered assurances that the relationships with China and South Korea are important and shouldn't be affected by individual problems, the address was a stark contrast to the one in January, when security issues received only cursory mention.
Instead, the focus this time was on diplomacy and defense--subjects the hawkish prime minister is widely known to have strong views on, but which have been toned down in favor of the economy.
"Continued challenges to our borders and sovereignty have raised the hostility level of our security environment," Mr. Abe said.
Quoting the words of former U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, Mr. Abe said "the rule of international law must triumph over exertion of force." He added that recent threats to Japan's territorial boundaries are a "clear and present danger" to the international community.
Referring to his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama last week, Mr. Abe took credit for restoring Japan's linchpin diplomatic relationship with the U.S. that his party claims was damaged during the three-year rule of the Democratic Party of Japan.
However, he remained silent on whether Japan would join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, reiterating only that the government would make a decision going forward.
Participation in the TPP is highly divisive for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, over which the agricultural sector has significant influence.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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