Koizumi win unlikely to calm Asia tensions

Japan?s Asian neighbours have greeted this week?s landslide election win by Junichiro Koizumi, the country?s Liberal Democratic party prime minister, with a response fitting to a nation that is both the region?s economic superpower and a historical aggressor.

China and South Korea are still furious about the Japanese government?s approval of nationalist school books that exclude wartime atrocities by Japan?s military against their citizens. They are also angry about visits by Mr Koizumi to the Yasakuni Shrine, which includes convicted war criminals among the dead it honours.

Japan has apologised for its past brutality. But given acute sensitivities in Beijing and Seoul about Tokyo?s contrition, Mr Koizumi?s landslide election victory on Sunday is not likely to change bilateral relations.

?We would like to emphasise that the Chinese government?s guidelines for developing friendly Sino-Japanese relations has not changed at all,? China?s foreign ministry said on Tuesday. ?We will continue to respect the three important Sino-Japan principles as outlined in political documents, according to the spirit of learning lessons from history while looking ahead to the future.?

Zhang Sheng, a history professor at Nanjing University, said Japanese apologies appear to be contradicted by actions such as Mr Koizumi?s controversial visits to the Yasakuni shrine.

?Verbal admissions need to be reflected in action,? Mr Zhang said. ?It makes Chinese people very unhappy. They must admit previous crimes are indeed a reality.?

South Korea?s Uri party congratulated Mr Koizumi but said he ?should pay attention to voices that express worries about rising nationalism in Japan?.

The main opposition Grand National party said the victory by Mr Koizumi ?should not be the reason for him to continue his arrogant policies toward Japan?s neighbours?. One of the nationalistic Japanese school books asserts Japan?s claim to a group of rocky islets under Korea?s jurisdiction.

More positive was Australia?s reaction, with commentators urging Canberra to remain focused on Japan, the country?s largest trade partner, in spite of the rise of China?s economy.

?Japan is still economically the biggest game in town and Junichiro Koizumi?s landslide election win means this game is changing in our favour,? wrote Malcolm Cook and Mark Thirwell of Sydney?s Lowy Institute think-tank.

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