China is watching with great interest and anticipation as to who succeeds Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo, who announced his resignation August 28 due to an intractable medical condition.
In announcing his departure from office, Abe was careful not to let slip who he favors as his successor. But, the three top candidates all share one key trait: they're all very experienced in either foreign affairs or national defense.
Of the 10 people known to be vying for Abe's job, the most likely to succeed him are former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba; former foreign minister Fumio Kishida and current Minister of Defense Taro Kono.
China sees Abe's successor as having a huge impact on its relations with Japan. These relations are currently strained due to China's contentious territorial claim over the Japanese held Senkaku Islands. Abe chose to strengthen all the armed services in the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) as a response to China's relentless pursuit of its goal of annexing the Senkakus.
An op-ed in the tabloid Global Times, which is owned by the Communist Party of China (CPC), makes the case for Abe's successor continuing the former prime minister's policies.
"If there is little policy continuity, neither China nor Japan will benefit," wrote Wang Guangtao, an associate research fellow at the Center for Japanese Studies of Fudan University.
He argues the successor continuing Abe's moderate China policy will be key to China-Japan relations in the long run. He, also, sees continuity as the basic affirmation of Abe's China policy during the later part of his administration.
Wang noted two distinct stages in Abe's China policy over the past eight years. The first involved confrontation and containment. The second emphasized a return to "normal."
He calculates Japan under Abe sees China-Japan relations as a positive rather than a negative. As proof he points to bilateral visits by leaders of both countries. There's, also, the much broader cooperation in trade and finance.
Wang sees Ishiba, Kishiba and Kono as moderates when it comes to dealing with China. On the other hand, he fears electoral politics and the international situation likely means "all potential candidates will be critical of China to some degree" in their bid to succeed Abe.
Wang holds to the rosy-colored view whoever becomes Japan's next prime minister "is unlikely to pursue confrontational policies toward China." He believes the new prime minister will inherit and further develop China-Japan relations in line with Japan's national interests.
The Chinese central government has yet to issue any official comment on Abe's successor. On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the naming of Abe's successor is an internal matter of Japan. He said Beijing has no comment on it but is ready to work with Japan to continue to improve and develop bilateral relations.