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Japan elects newest prime minister

TOKYO -- Yoshihiko Noda was elected yesterday as Japan's sixth prime minister in five years, facing such a staggering array of domestic problems that the last thing he needs is a sour relationship with China, his country's biggest trading partner.

Yet Noda is being viewed warily in China, whose media are playing up his comments supporting a controversial Tokyo shrine honoring World War II dead, including war criminals, and that Beijing's military buildup is creating regional unease. " 'Hawk' to become Japan's new prime minister," said the nationalistic Global Times.

Regarded at home as a smart but bland fiscal conservative from humble roots, Noda replaces the unpopular Naoto Kan, who quit amid widespread criticism over his administration's handling of the tsunami and nuclear disasters. A former finance minister, Noda is likely to focus on those immense challenges, as well as reviving the stagnant economy and reducing Japan's massive national debt.

But in China, the media are portraying Noda as a right-wing nationalist and has predicted a rocky period for China-Japan relations. Even more liberal newspapers highlighted his comments, first made in 2005 and reiterated earlier this month, that convicted Japanese wartime leaders enshrined at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo should no longer be seen as criminals.

Yasukuni visits by postwar politicians have often enraged Japan's neighbors, who bore the brunt of Japan's colonial aggression.

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