Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was elected president of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, meaning that he will be the party's standard-bearer in the next elections which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has promised will be soon, but without specifying the date.
Abe beat out his rival Shigeru Ishiba, head of the LDP Research Council, in a runoff.
Abe trailed his rival badly at the end of a first ballot where both the parliamentary faction and the local party organizations are allowed to vote. In the runoff, only the party faction in parliament is allowed to vote and here Abe's superior party contacts proved decisive.
This was the first time since 1956 that a candidate who trailed after the first ballot was able to come out on top on the second ballot. To shore up party unity, he has pledged to earmark a key post to Ishiba.
Interestingly, the 58-year-old Abe emphasized foreign and security policy before economics - "our lands and territorial waters are being threatened". First however he has to get elected and Prime Minister Noda has to dissolve the lower house.
While emphasizing the importance of Japan-China ties, Abe has promised to stand firm on the dispute over the islands. Abe's selection has also drawn criticism from South Korea, another country that has a territorial dispute with Japan. South Korea resents Abe's historical revisionism on Japan's role in Korea.
While the LDP election was going on, Prime Minister Noda was in New York to state Japan's position on the territorial disputes and offered in all cases to refer the issue to the international Court of Justice.
"Japan will fulfill its duty in accordance with international law…"Peaceful resolution of conflicts through international law is the principal of the UN Charter and the fundamental rule shared by the international community will," he pledged.
Noda's problem is that while his Democratic Party of Japan has traditionally been more pacifist than the LDP, his offer to submit the issue to international adjudication has been rejected by both the Chinese and the South Koreans.
The Chinese, after violent anti-Japanese demonstrations, have reverted to a traditional tactic of trying to pressure Japan by hampering trade relations. This is creating a backlash in Japan that could play into the hands of Abe and the LDP.