By Hu Xuan
Despite the resignation of Abe, China's relations with its neighbor will continue to grow in the coming years, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said closer ties are in the interests of both nations, and the momentum of improvement would not be dented.
"China-Japan relations have improved through the efforts of the governments and peoples of both nations over the past year," said Jiang.
A five-year impasse in bilateral ties ended when Abe made China his first foreign destination after taking office last September, visiting just weeks after becoming prime minister.
"Aside from election defeat and slipping popularity ratings, the increasing number of funds scandals involving members of his Cabinet coming to light has put pressure on Abe to step down," said Liu Jiangyong, an expert at the Institute of International Studies under Tsinghua University.
"Support for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been damaged by his concentration on ideological issues such as constitutional reform at a time when many Japanese are concerned about the widening gap between the rich and poor," said Liu.
"Abe may have feared he no longer had the clout to win the public's support for the Afghan mission."
Liu said the resignation was designed to allow the LDP to generate new energy in the face of political deadlock with the opposition.
It has also been suggested internal party strife could have been a factor.
"The stalemate over the naval mission and other woes could spark a snap election in the more powerful lower house, threatening political instability," said Liu.
Feng Zhaokui, a Japan specialist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said he did not expect vast changes in China-Japan relations.
The relationship with China is so important that no Japanese politicians can afford to ignore it, he said.
Hawkish Aso leads field to succeed Abe
Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is likely to pick a successor to resigning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe next Wednesday, public broadcaster NHK reported last night.
The party will pick a new leader, who will automatically become prime minister because the LDP leads Japan's ruling coalition.
Most observers put hawkish former foreign minister Taro Aso, 66 at the head of the field.
Aso, who is currently No 2 in the ruling LDP contested Abe in the party leadership race in September last year. Known as an outspoken conservative, he served as internal affairs minister and top planning chief under Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi. During his stint as foreign minister Sino-Japanese relations declined, partially through his branding China a "military threat."
In status-conscious Japan Aso may hold an additional trump card through being grandson of the late Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida.
In contrast to Aso's aggressive style is 62-year-old Sadakazu Tanigaki, who has stressed the need for Japan to repair relations with neighbors China and South Korea.
Finance minister under Koizumi and a former minister in charge of industrial revitalization, Tanigaki also ran against Abe in the LDP leadership race. He was a lawyer before entering politics.
Other faces making and entry in the race could include Yasuo Fukuda, 71, a former top government spokesman. Fukuda was one of the leading contenders, along with Abe, Aso and Tanigaki, to replace Koizumi, but he dropped out before the formal race, citing his age. Son of former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, he worked in a petroleum company and later served as political secretary to his father. Fukuda has also argued for closer ties with China and opposes visits by Japanese leaders to the Ysukuni war shrine in Tokyo.
Kaoru Yosano, 69, may also contest the leadership. Appointed chief Cabinet secretary in a recent reshuffle, he has served as trade minister and education minister and is known as a strong supporter of fiscal reform.
Meanwhile speculation refuses to die that flamboyant Koizumi, 65, who served as prime minister for five years, could be called back to take over the leadership.
The political maverick topped a newspaper poll last month as the voters' choice to succeed Abe and still serves in parliament.
Rarely out of the public eye while in office, Koizumi is known as a reformer who shook up the LDP, before leading it to a landslide Lower House election victory in 2005.
Despite his successes at home however, Koizumi stressed Japan's international ties with his visits to Yasukuni shrine and his deployment of Japanese troops to Iraq. Koizumi himself said last year just before leaving office that he would enjoy his freedom. When asked if he was sorry to leave his official residence, he was quoted as saying "No, no, I will be free."
(China Daily September 13, 2007)