Kishida to be next Japanese PM, may not keep extreme rhetoric on China policy 'for the good of both'
Published: Sep 29, 2021 02:08 PM Updated: Sep 29, 2021 11:51 PM
Outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (left) bows to former foreign minister Fumio Kishida after the latter was elected the new leader of the ruling Liberal Democrat Party on Wednesday in Tokyo. Photo: VCG
Outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (left) bows to former foreign minister Fumio Kishida after the latter was elected the new leader of the ruling Liberal Democrat Party on Wednesday in Tokyo. Photo: VCG

Fumio Kishida won the leadership election of the Japanese ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Wednesday, all but assuring that he will become the next Japanese prime minister. Although having jumped to the front line of attacking China during the election campaign, he may not go toward the extreme right-wing path, Chinese analysts predicted, but suggested that the new Japanese cabinet should explore a road that leads to forming a stable policy on China under the backdrop of China-US competition.

The new Japanese cabinet will not fundamentally change Japan's foreign policy, especially when it comes to China, experts said.

China-Japan ties cannot be allowed to deteriorate further, otherwise, the next Japanese leader will encounter tremendous difficulty when they attempt to mend ties, they said.

Hua Chunying, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a Wednesday press conference that China is willing to work with the new Japanese administration to deepen practical cooperation in various fields and push for the sound and steady development of China-Japan relations toward the right track.

Kishida, 64, who was former prime minister Shinzo Abe's handpicked successor, defeated Taro Kono 257-170.

Kishida is scheduled to officially become Japan's 100th prime minister on October 4 and form a new cabinet.

Kishida, who was once known for his friendly stance toward China, jumped to the front line of attacking China during the election campaign, which is seen by analysts as an attempt to showcase his "toughness" to the Japanese public and within the LDP.

He vowed to counter China's growing influence by working closely with the US and other "likeminded" democracies.

He promised to establish a post for a special advisor to the prime minister on human rights issues if elected and that this advisor would deal with the alleged "human rights abuses" in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Hong Kong, Kyodo News reported.

Kishida made some tough remarks concerning China during the runoff. But considering he had been dovish, those remarks could just have been an election tactic and he won't necessarily adopt such an extreme right-wing path afterwards, Zhou Yongsheng, deputy director of the Japanese Studies Center at China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

But analysts have warned that while Japanese politicians' harsh rhetoric for winning elections is one thing, "toxic" hawkish anti-China rhetoric will poison Japan's overall relationship with China.

Analysts stressed that Japan should figure out a stable way to handle China relations amid the continuing competition between China and the US. 

China has never opposed the US-Japan alliance, but Japan should seek to improve China-Japan relations within the framework of its alliance with the US. If Japan can have a stable regime, that will be beneficial for the stability and development of China-Japan relations, Zhou said.  

Da Zhigang, director and research fellow of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences and chief expert at the Northeast Asian Strategic Studies Institute, noted that Kishida introduced his policies on topics including security, finance, energy and social security, but COVID-19 pandemic control and economic recovery are the real matters that must be dealt with as the pandemic has had a systematic impact on Japan's economy and how to rein in the virus while developing the economy is the key for Kishida to win public recognition. 

Japanese media said that COVID-19 has forced Japan to end two cabinets and that the weakness of Japan's emergency response capabilities and lack of digitalization has been exposed during this process.

The change in regime may temporarily boost support for the cabinet, but only so much, analysts said. If anti-pandemic measures or economic recovery do not meet expectations, the LDP will also be "on trial" during the upper house elections next summer.  

Still under Abe's shadow?

After taking office as prime minister, whether Kishida will get rid of the influence of Abe and find his own "political style" has become the focus of public attention.

In his victory speech, Kishida called for the unity of LDP and vowed to lead the party to "rebirth" in his presidency.

Analysts believe that Kishida's victory represented continuity for the LDP and shows the influence of Abe. Abe will still have influence in the Kishida administration and whether Kishida can shape his own political image will be the test for the new cabinet, they noted.

Tomoo Marukawa, a professor at the Institute of Social Science of the University of Tokyo, told the Global Times that the Suga administration is ultimately transitional.  

The Kishida administration could be an extension of the Abe-Suga system, meaning Kishida may have to constantly "figure out" what Abe would do and his rule may also be a short one, Marukawa said.

While Abe proposed "diplomacy with a bird's view of the globe," Suga didn't make any breakthroughs during his short tenure. But Suga did step further toward enhancing ties with the West and amplifying the US' "Indo-Pacific strategy," Da said. 

A number of Japanese politicians, journalists and scholars gave the same answer when they were interviewed by the Global Times to assess the Suga cabinet - a failing grade.

Masanari Koike, a former lawmaker, gave Suga's cabinet "40 points." Koike told the Global Times that Suga has repeatedly issued emergency declarations and urged the public to cooperate with related restrictions without clearly explaining the effect and necessity to the public, causing society and the economy to come to a standstill.

Suga encountered a diplomatic plight during his tenure with four neighboring countries — China, Russia, North Korea and South Korea - partly due to the Biden administration's policy change that binds Japan closer, and the conservative trend in Japanese society, Xiang Haoyu, a research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times. But some Chinese observers pointed out that unlike Abe's flexibility, Suga could not maintain a balance between major powers and appeared awkward in diplomacy. 

Marukawa gave the Suga cabinet 55 points because Suga "almost followed the line of the Abe cabinet without taking any new action." Suga left a "passive image" in foreign policy, and continued the failed Abenomics, Marukawa noted.