Japan’s hawkish China policy seen unlikely to change under next PM

Incoming Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is unlikely to soften his country's foreign policy toward Beijing, despite his leanings on the dovish side of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on China issues, a Japanese scholar said Wednesday.

Kishida, 64, won the leadership election of the ruling LDP early Wednesday in the second round of voting, which positioned him to take over the reins of the country from incumbent Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in early October.

While Kishida has long been on the dovish side of the LDP with regard to China policy, he was at the forefront of a more hardline stance on a number of issues during his campaign for the party's presidency, according to Yuki Tatsumi, a Japanese scholar at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.

For example, Kishida has proposed appointing a special advisor to Japan's prime minister on human rights issues in China, said Tatsumi, who is director of the center's Japan Program and co-director of its East Asia Program.

The hawkish stance is a major shift in Japan's policy toward China, and it signals consensus on the importance of Taiwan and the role Japan would play in the event of conflict across the Taiwan Strait, Tatsumi said, commenting on the implications of Kishida's victory for Taiwan.

Japan's cross-strait policy has changed amid concern over the growing aggression of China's military in the seas and air near Taiwan and Japan and in the South China Sea, Tatsumi said.

Against that backdrop, Japanese politicians, especially those in the LDP, have revised their stance toward Taipei and are considering further improvement of bilateral relations, she said.

"I don't see any softening of Japan's stance vis-a-vis the People's Republic of China, even under Mr. Kishida," Tatsumi said, during a webinar titled "Warming Japan-Taiwan Ties: Implications for East Asia," hosted by the Jamestown Foundation in Washington.

Also speaking at the event, Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia Program at another Washington-based think tank the Wilson Center, said he expects greater cooperation between the United States, Japan and Taiwan in the coming years, particularly on economic matters.

Denmark said Tokyo will likely support Taiwan's bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a regional trade bloc led by Japan.

The 11-member CPTPP, which grew out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership after the U.S. left the pact in January 2017, is one of the world's biggest trade blocs, representing a market of 500 million people and accounting for 13.5 percent of global trade.

Taiwan submitted a formal application on Sept. 22 to join the CPTPP, one week after China did so.

Taiwan has expressed worry that if China gains entry to the CPTPP first, the Chinese government will try to oppose Taiwan's membership.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel