All four candidates vying to succeed Japan's outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga welcomed Friday Taiwan's application to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, a move sure to provoke China.
In an online town hall meeting for Wednesday's presidential election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, vaccination minister Taro Kono, former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi and former gender equality minister Seiko Noda said they "support" Taiwan's entry into the 11-member regional trade pact, while former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said he "welcomes" Taipei's bid for membership.
"We have to monitor whether (Taiwan) will be able to respond to the high-level rules (required to become a member) of the TPP," formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Kishida said.
China has voiced strong opposition to Taiwan's bid to join the TPP, as Beijing regards the self-ruled democratic island as a renegade province awaiting reunification by force if necessary.
The four prime ministerial hopefuls vowed to coordinate with the United States and other democratic countries in better dealing with China, especially when the country flexes its muscle in the East and South China seas, attempting to press its claims there.
The LDP vote effectively decides Japan's next prime minister as the party currently controls the House of Representatives, the powerful lower chamber of parliament.
Kono and Takaichi expressed willingness to revise the Japan Coast Guard Law in response to Beijing's repeated intrusions into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands, a group of islets in the East China Sea controlled by Japan but claimed by China.
"With a revision to the law in sight, I will promote diplomatic activities, so Tokyo can better curb Beijing's escalating acts," Kono said.
Kishida underscored the need to strengthen cooperation between the Japan Coast Guard and the Self-Defense Forces in response to China's moves around the Senkakus, known as Diaoyu in China.
Noda called for stepping up ties with countries such as Australia to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
The four senior LDP lawmakers, however, were divided over whether, as prime minister, they would visit the war-related Yasukuni shrine, an issue that would strain ties with China and South Korea.
Takaichi said she would, but Kono and Noda said they would not. However, Kishida said he would consider a visit after studying the timing and the situation.
Beijing and Seoul regard the Shinto shrine, which honors convicted war criminals along with millions of war dead, as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
On the second day of the four-day online town hall meetings, the four answered questions from participating citizens on issues ranging from foreign and security policy to energy and the environment.