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Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has not taken too long to affirm his strong desire to restore the balance of power in Asia amidst the rise of China and Beijing's political assertiveness.
As tensions between Japan and China over disputed islands in the East China Sea escalate and diplomatic observers warn against the dangers of a shooting match between their armed forces in 2013, Abe has begun his new tenure with a strong focus on national security.
Speaking to a leading Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, immediately after he was sworn in last week, Abe emphasised the importance of strengthening the longstanding alliance with the United States and deepening the new partnerships with India, Indonesia and Australia.
Japan already has formal declarations on security cooperation with both India and Australia and is hoping to build one with Indonesia. In his earlier brief tenure as PM, during 2006-07, Abe talked of cooperation among Asian democracies as part of a grand strategy to build "an arc of freedom of prosperity".
The challenge from China has risen so rapidly in the last few years that Japan no longer has the luxury of limiting
its partnerships to those countries that share the
values of democracy and political pluralism.
Among the first leaders that Abe got in touch with over the telephone last week were Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
More interesting were Abe's calls to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Neither Russia nor Vietnam has been part of Abe's earlier conception of Asia's democratic arc.
But both are important neighbours of China and have a critical role in shaping the Asian balance of power. While Japan and Vietnam have developed strong economic links in recent years, Abe's Russia initiative will be closely watched in Asian capitals.
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