Japan frets over EU downgrades

TOKYO, January 15, 2012 (AFP) - Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi on Sunday expressed worries over his nation's own sovereign debt rating after Standard and Poor's downgraded nine debt-laden EU countries, including France.

"Unless Japan shows that we are swiftly securing stable financial conditions and rebuilding fiscal policies... it will be us next time," Azumi told reporters.

His comments came after Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda also voiced concerns.

"The crisis in Europe is not a fire on the other side of a river," he said during a TV programme on Saturday.

"Even France's rating was lowered. If Japan continues its current fiscal policy, we will find ourselves under the spotlight. We must tackle this issue with a great sense of urgency."

Japan's debt stands at around 200 percent of GDP after years of pump-priming measures by governments trying in vain to arrest the economy's long decline.

Noda's government and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan have mapped out a plan to double the current five percent sales tax, but the premier faces a tough battle to drive through the unpopular plan.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor's has downgraded nine EU countries, stripping France and Austria of their top triple-A rating.

Only Germany escaped unscathed, as all other eurozone members were either downgraded -- some by two notches -- or else warned their current ratings were being re-examined.