New Japan PM Kishida affirms US alliance amid concerns over China

TOKYO • New Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida yesterday affirmed Tokyo's alliance with Washington and signalled concerns about China's posture over Taiwan, with his foreign minister saying Japan would "consider options" and prepare for "various scenarios".

Taiwan and broader relations with Beijing are likely to dominate security policies and foreign relations from the outset of Mr Kishida's tenure, and could emerge as a key issue in the upcoming general election, analysts say.

Underscoring the new Cabinet's China focus, Mr Kishida created a new post of economy security minister, filled by an official who helped craft policies aimed at protecting sensitive technologies in supply chains and cyber security from China.

Asked about Taiwan, which has reported 148 flights by Chinese military planes into its air defence identification zone since last Friday, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said he hoped "this matter is resolved peacefully between the two parties through direct talks".

"Additionally, instead of simply monitoring the situation, we hope to weigh the various possible scenarios that may arise to consider what options we have, as well as the preparations we must make," Mr Motegi said.

Mr Kishida's retaining of Mr Motegi, along with Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi, signalled his desire to continue former prime minister Shinzo Abe's push to boost security ties with the United States while preserving trade relations with China, analysts say.

Mr Kishida, a former foreign minister, on Monday unveiled a Cabinet line-up mixing allies of Mr Abe and former finance minister Taro Aso in key posts with relative political novices, in keeping with his promise to give younger lawmakers a chance.

Shortly after being formally confirmed by Parliament in the top job, the 64-year-old Hiroshima native surprised the opposition by calling for an Oct 31 election, and also vowed to bolster the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Kishida told reporters yesterday he had received a "strong" message from US President Joe Biden about the commitment by Washington to defending the disputed East China Sea islets, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan. China also claims the islands, which it calls the Diaoyus.

In a phone conversation that lasted roughly 20 minutes, the allies also confirmed their cooperation towards achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific, Mr Kishida told reporters.

Mr Kishida, who is from a traditionally dovish faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), had tacked to the right as he campaigned to be the party's leader, reflecting a broader shift in the LDP spurred by Mr Abe's record-long tenure.

He has said that acquiring the ability to strike enemy bases, a controversial step backed by Mr Abe, was a viable option and that he would appoint an aide to monitor China's treatment of its Uighur minority. China denies accusations of abuse.

Japan's new leader is also expected to deepen engagement with the US, Australia, India and Japan - known as the Quad - which Beijing sees as an effort to contain its rise.

His economic security minister is 46-year-old Takayuki Kobayashi, who has worked closely on economic security policies with the new secretary-general of the LDP, Mr Akira Amari, another ally of Mr Abe.

In his first news conference, Mr Kobayashi aimed to strike a balance between pressuring China and maintaining good relations, saying the ties were of great importance to both countries.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2021, with the headline 'New Japan PM Kishida affirms US alliance amid concerns over China'. Subscribe