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Japan's new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is ready anytime for top-level talks with China and South Korea to mend rifts and ensure stability in the region, his spokesman said Wednesday, Abe's first full day in office.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said Abe is willing to meet South Korean or Chinese leaders at any time to try to resolve issues of concern, including territorial disputes and regional anger over official visits to a controversial Tokyo war shrine.
"We both share an understanding that we should work to hold top-level talks as early as possible," Shiozaki said. "It is necessary for both sides to make an effort."
He said no specific plans have been made for talks yet.
Chinese President Hu Jintao has refused since last year to meet with Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, because he repeatedly visited the Yasukuni war shrine, which honors war criminals among Japan's war dead.
China and South Korea - both brutally colonized by Japan in the last century - say the shrine glorifies Japan's past militarism.
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang urged Abe to pursue better bilateral ties, and made a veiled reference to Yasukuni as a reason for the troubles between the two.
Shiozaki said the atmosphere is improving.
"I think there is an increasing feeling on both sides to further improve Japan-China and Japan-South Korea relations," Shiozaki said, adding that good relations are the "pillar of stability" in East Asia.
In his first news conference following his landslide election by Parliament on Tuesday, Abe vowed to mend the tattered ties.
Abe got down to his first full day of work by huddling with his Cabinet, greeting his new staff and attending a formal swearing-in ceremony for members of his administration at the Imperial Palace.
Abe arrived at his office late Wednesday morning, waving and smiling to his staff. Earlier, he met reporters outside his home.
"I'll do my best," he said.
Shiozaki, in a speech to his own staff, said Tuesday's election of Abe, who at 52 is the first Japanese prime minister born after World War II, marks a turning point for the nation.
"We will part with the postwar period and build a new Japan," he said.
While saying he wants to strengthen his office and reorganize its operations into a body that more closely resembles the US White House, Abe stressed conservatism and continuity in the naming of his new Cabinet on Tuesday. The Cabinet retains Taro Aso, the hawkish and outspoken foreign minister.
His new defense minister, Fumio Kyuma, however, has said he does not intend to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, partially out of deference to the opposition such visits generate in Beijing and Seoul.
The new Cabinet met for the first time late Tuesday and Abe outlined a wide-ranging agenda covering fiscal reform, measures to combat Japan's falling birth rate and revamping the country's education system. On other fronts, Abe was expected to follow closely in the footsteps of Koizumi, who was one of Japan's longest-serving and most colorful postwar prime ministers.
The Cabinet met again Wednesday afternoon to appoint deputy ministers.
Other items on Abe's radar include strengthening Japan's military alliance with the United States, pushing North Korea to come clean on its abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s and a stagnated effort to win a permanent seat on the United Nations' Security Council.
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