China will carefully watch how Japan's former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who won the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election on Wednesday, will develop diplomacy toward the neighbor amid souring bilateral relations.
As next year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic ties, Kishida, who is set to become Japan's prime minister in early October, has affirmed the importance of holding summit talks with China.
Later Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing that China wants to "promote sound and stable development of relations" between the two Asian countries under the new Japanese government.
During the election campaign, however, Kishida vowed to set up the post of special adviser to the prime minister on human rights issues if elected, in an apparent bid to counter China's alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and its crackdown on Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.
His pledge prompted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian to say earlier this month, "China's internal affairs brook no foreign interference. Japanese politicians should stop making an issue out of China."
The Global Times, a tabloid of the ruling Communist Party, said last week that Kishida is a "representative of liberal politicians within his party" and "his policy is known for being moderate."
But the newspaper took a jab at him, saying, "After Kishida announced to join the leadership race, he has repeatedly used offensive remarks in public occasions to win the attention of the audiences, trying to create an image of a hard-line politician by attacking China."
The leadership of President Xi Jinping has also been irritated by Kishida, who has welcomed Taiwan's filing of a formal application to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, diplomatic sources said.
Strains between China and Japan have been escalating recently, especially after incumbent Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga confirmed in April with U.S. President Joe Biden "the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman at the office of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said Tsai congratulated Kishida and added the ruling Democratic Progressive Party thanked all the four candidates of the LDP leadership race for their support of Taiwan's bid to join the TPP free trade pact.
Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said her government looks forward to working with Kishida to continue to promote the cooperative relationship between Taiwan and Japan and to advance peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.
Taiwan media reported Kishida's winning as breaking news and the United Daily News quoted Kuo Yu-jen, professor at National Sun Yat-sen University's Institute of China and Asia-Pacific Studies, as saying that Kishida's victory advantages Taiwan as he has made friendly comments about the self-ruled democratic island.
Beijing, meanwhile, has become relieved by the defeat of former communications minister Sanae Takaichi, one of the two female candidates, the sources said.
Takaichi has been lambasted by Chinese state-run media as a "right-wing" nationalist. She had promised to continue visiting Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine even as prime minister, which would draw criticism from China and South Korea as they see it as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
A 42-year-old Japanese worker in Beijing told Kyodo News, "We were very concerned that if Takaichi becomes the prime minister, ties between Japan and China would deteriorate sharply."
In the early 2000s, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the war-linked shrine sparked a wave of anti-Japanese protests in China, jeopardizing the safety of Japanese citizens living in the country.