China on Monday expressed hope to maintain stable ties with Japan after Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was elected as new president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, amid escalating tensions with the United States.
As Suga is all but certain to be appointed as Japan's prime minister on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing that China "congratulates" on his election as the new LDP leader.
China is "willing to work with" Suga to continue to "deepen cooperation" in fighting the new coronavirus pandemic and to "promote the continuous improvement and development" of relations between Tokyo and Beijing, Wang added.
Suga has pledged to "build stable ties with neighboring nations such as China," which has been apparently raising expectations that the likely successor of outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not take actions that would hurt bilateral relations.
As Japan's House of Representatives is set to be dissolved for a general election by October next year, China would be carefully watching the political situation in its neighbor, foreign affairs experts said.
If Suga can have a strong support base as a result of the lower house election, China could try to restart talks on President Xi Jinping's first state visit to Japan since he took power in 2013, which has been delayed owing to the virus epidemic, they added.
Suga, meanwhile, has taken an intransigent approach to a territorial row with China in the East China Sea.
In the early 2010s, China and Japan were mired in territorial spats over the Senkaku Islands. The dispute intensified after the Japanese government of then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda brought the Senkakus under state control in September 2012.
The group of uninhabited islets, called Diaoyu in China, is administrated by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.
A Chinese specialist on Japanese politics said, "China is now eager to create appropriate ties with Japan. But territorial and security issues between the two countries and their differences about Hong Kong and Taiwan will not be resolved."
South Korea, whose relations with Japan have been slumping to its worst level in years over wartime labor compensation and trade policy, has voiced pessimism about the future of bilateral ties.
Given that Suga has promised to inherit Abe's diplomatic policy, South Korea may face difficulties in improving its relations with Japan, local media said.
Ties between Tokyo and Seoul have plunged to the lowest point since normalization in 1965 over Japanese imposition of export control measures in the wake of a string of South Korean court rulings ordering compensation for wartime labor.
Japan has taken the position that the issue of claims stemming from its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula has been settled under a bilateral accord signed alongside a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic relations.
Elsewhere in Asia, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, in a congratulatory message sent in her position as head of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, called for stronger Taiwan-Japan relations under Suga's leadership.
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry separately recalled how Suga has repeatedly said that Taiwan and Japan are important partners and valuable friends and has voiced support for Taiwan's participation in international organizations such as the World Health Organization.
The ministry expressed hope that "the friendly relations between Taiwan and Japan will flourish day by day."
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