KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — This time last year, Taiwan was every bit as focused on the latest developments in the U.S. presidential race as its own elections.
No one is in any doubt of the importance of the U.S. to Taiwan’s continued freedom and there were some serious questions being asked about just how committed to Taiwan the then-Democratic candidate Joe Biden would be. Biden’s key appointments and subsequent moves, such as the recent AUKUS agreement, have put many of those concerns to bed since he came to office.
But the frenzy of speculation illustrates a quirk in the unique diplomatic status quo in which Taiwan is forced to operate. The future of this country is every bit as beholden to the governments of its allies as it is to our own.
This is why the election of the new leader of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was being watched so keenly from these shores too.
The LDP enjoys a solid majority in Japan's parliament meaning that the new leader, Kishida Fumio, is all but certain to become the next prime minister of Japan too. He will have the honor of being the 100th Japanese prime minister.
He will replace Suga Yoshihide, the successor to long-time prime minister Abe Shinzo, who resigned on health grounds in 2020 after almost eight years in the role. This was a rare period of stability in Japan after a run of six prime ministers in the previous six years.
Suga managed to hang onto the role for barely a year. He has resigned due to criticism over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the decision to hold the Olympic Games despite widespread public opposition, and declining popularity of the LDP overall.
Domestically, Kishida faces a number of major challenges. But the international agenda is looking just as challenging and Kishida’s approach in this area will have major implications for Taiwan too.
So, what can we expect to change?
Well, the fact that Kishida was foreign minister for much of Abe Shinzo's time in office, and from 2017 until the present day, and has chaired the Policy Research Council of the LDP, suggests that major shifts in policy are not forthcoming.
That is good news for Taiwan. Japan is every bit as important an ally to Taiwan as the U.S. is and the bonds between the two countries have grown deeper in recent years.
The LDP has long been hawkish in its approach to China and the party’s policies toward possible conflict in the Taiwan Strait are based on the existing U.S.-Japan security arrangements. Kishida has been criticized as a rather bland politician domestically and is not seen as someone who has taken a stand on controversial issues.
When it comes to Taiwan, he is not as forthright in his support as some in his party are. However, he has a history of exchanges with Taiwanese politicians in his younger days and on his watch as foreign minister, relations with Taiwan warmed considerably.
He can be expected to continue to back Taiwan’s participation in the CPTPP and the World Health Organization. He will also continue to build on the growing defense relationship between Japan and major Western democracies like the U.S., U.K., and Australia — which developed significantly while he was foreign minister too.
Kishida is also expected to stabilize Japanese supply chains and that is likely to see the country attempt to shift manufacturing dependence away from China to other Indo-Pacific nations. Taiwan could well be a beneficiary of that too.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was quick to congratulate Kishida on his appointment as LDP leader and said she looks forward to deepening exchanges between the DPP and LDP. Doubtless another congratulatory message will be extended when Kishida is officially confirmed as prime minister.
We can expect the outspoken and highly effective Taiwan Representative in Japan, Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), to be working closely with the new Japanese government on relevant issues. So, stability seems to be the message for now.
The next Japan general election is coming up fast, in November. And while the LDP has a good majority, it is far from certain that it will retain power.
While we have stability now, the big question is, for how long?