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New Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has tapped a political ally known for his affinity for Taiwan to be his defense chief as Chinese and American analysts watch for signs of the incoming leader’s foreign policy plans.

“I think Japan will continue to move forward with Taiwan relations, but we're not sure how far,” the Heritage Foundation’s Bruce Klingner, a former CIA official who specializes in northeast Asia, said while discussing the appointment of Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi.

Kishi, the younger brother of outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is relatively unknown in Washington, but he has maintained close ties to Taiwanese officials despite China’s anger over any interaction between the island government and global leaders.

China greeted his appointment with a clear warning for Japan to avoid increasing its engagement with Taiwan, the last bastion of the mainland government overthrown in the Chinese Communist revolution.

“We hope that the defense departments of the two countries will strengthen dialogue and exchanges, continuously enhance security, mutual trust, promote the building of constructive bilateral security relations, and jointly safeguard regional and international peace and stability,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said. “We also hope the Japanese side will abide by the one-China principle and refrain from any form of official exchanges with the Taiwan region.”

Kishi visited Taiwan last month for a memorial in honor of the late Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui and met with current Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, during a visit that took place on the day of United States Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar’s arrival in Taiwan.

Similarly, Kishi’s appointment coincided with the announcement that the State Department’s top economic official will travel to Taiwan this week for a memorial service in honor of the late Taiwanese leader, a pattern that dovetails with Kishi’s stated hopes for the relationship between the three governments.

“Taiwan shares common values, maintains close economic and personal ties with Japan, and is an important friend,” Kishi told Taiwanese media in 2016. “As we bolster trilateral relations between Japan, U.S., and Taiwan, we also hope for the stable development of cross-strait relations.”

Such diplomatic signals historically irritate China, which claims not only Taiwan but also neighboring islands that Japan regards as its territory.

“I must say China has become a security threat to Japan,” Kishi’s predecessor, outgoing Defense Minister Taro Kono, said last week. “They have capability, and they have intention.”

Klingner suggested that Kishi might agree largely with his brother’s administration, but the details of how he’d implement those policy views remain unclear.

“Would he be less energetic than ... Kono on certain issues?” Klingner wondered. “We’re trying to interpret the tea leaves, and we're uncertain ... Regardless, China pushing incursions into Japan's surrounding areas certainly is going to drive a lot of the administration's views.”

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Japan Sending Team to Probe Mauritius Ship Grounding

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan said on Friday it will send a five-person team to Mauritius to investigate the grounding of a Japanese-owned ship off the country's coast that led to an environmental crisis.

A bulk carrier owned by Japan's Nagashiki Shipping and chartered by Mitsui OSK ran aground on a reef off Mauritius on July 25 and later began leaking oil into the pristine waters around the Indian Ocean island.

The Japanese government said in a statement that it would send a team of five people to Mauritius on Sept. 20.

Japan previously told Mauritius it would offer support on an "unprecedented scale."

The Panamanian-flagged MV Wakashio began spilling fuel oil on Aug. 6, prompting the Mauritian government to announce an environmental emergency. The captain and another member of the crew have been arrested by Mauritius police.

Scientists say the full impact of the spill is still unfolding but the damage could affect Mauritius and its tourism-dependent economy for decades.

Mitsui OSK last week said it would contribute about 1 billion yen ($9.4 million) to help Mauritius.

(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; editing by Richard Pullin)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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