Don't bet on it. A lifelong right-winger from conservative stock (his grandfather was arrested as a war criminal after World War II, though never charged), Abe has visited Yasukuni repeatedly in the past. So far he has refused to say whether he would go as PM, but even if Abe defuses tensions over Yasukuni, he has other ways to rile Japan's neighbors. For a start, local media reported last week that he has plans to revise the country's pacifist constitution to allow Japan's self-defense forces greater participation in allied military operations?a signal that he's eager for Japan to become a more assertive player on the world stage. If so, Beijing and Seoul may have second thoughts about celebrating Koizumi's departure.
With outgoing prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi due to step down next month, Japan's neighbors are breathing a sigh of relief and focusing their attention on his likely successor, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe. Koizumi's visits to the controversial Yasukuni shrine?the latest on Aug. 15?have long outraged China and South Korea, who view them as deliberate celebrations of Japanese militarism. But Beijing and Seoul have signaled their willingness to give Abe a chance to repair ties?if he forgoes Yasukuni.