Vow of continuity carries the day for Suga
China Daily

Yoshihide Suga, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker, speaks during a news conference to announce his candidacy for the party's leadership election in Tokyo, Japan on Sept 2, 2020. (Photo: Agencies)

Congratulations to Yoshihide Suga.

By winning the intra-party election on Monday and becoming president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the present chief cabinet secretary of Japan is set to succeed Shinzo Abe as prime minister following an election in the LDP-controlled Diet on Wednesday which he is sure to win due to the LDP-led coalition having a majority in both chambers of Japan's Parliament.

Unlike Abe's abrupt announcement of his resignation for health reasons, Suga's election was broadly anticipated as he will ensure policy continuity and domestic political stability at a time of global uncertainties. And it is expected that he will try to capitalize on this by calling a snap election to show that he has the support of the public.

The policy agenda of the liberal-leaning Fumio Kishida, the LDP policy chief, focusing on addressing longstanding structural problems in Japanese society revealed during the COVID-19 crisis, was forward-looking but a little too ambitious.

The same was true for the policy agenda of Shigeru Ishiba, the former defense minister, who sought a substantial "reshuffle" of national governance.

Suga, however, has pledged to continue pressing ahead with Abe's policies, expressing his willingness to inherit the Abe administration's policy agenda "in a wholesale manner".

While containing the pandemic, shoring up the devastated economy, and handling uncertainties surrounding the Tokyo Olympic Games are sure to be his priorities on taking office, it is likely that, judging from his remarks, Suga will carry forward what Abe has initiated on most, if not all, policy fronts.

Judging from his pre-election statements, Suga wouldn't break from his predecessor's foreign policy orientation. Like Abe, he holds the alliance between Japan and the United States to be the cornerstone of Japanese diplomacy, which, along with his commitment to revising Japan's Constitution, may mean closer economic and security links with Washington. His past policy stances also hint at following Washington's lead on the East and South China seas, and other issues relating to China.

The good news for Beijing, though, is Suga, again like Abe, is very conscious of the significance of maintaining decent ties with neighboring China, which means it is possible that the thaw in bilateral relations under Abe may be sustained under the coming Suga administration.

Given the unfolding tensions between China and the US, Suga will have a very difficult time balancing ties with his country's sole ally and No 1 trading partner. But so long as he adheres to his previous promise of not taking sides, and commitment to timely strategic communication, there are no obstacles between the two countries that can't be overcome.