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‘A tribally conservative leader’: Australia awaits next Japanese PM

Abe and Turnbull also led the charge to revive the landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the trade deal.

Japan's then-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Fumio Kishida in 2015 at the opening of talks between Japan's and Australia's Foreign and Defence ministers in Sydney.

Japan’s then-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Fumio Kishida in 2015 at the opening of talks between Japan’s and Australia’s Foreign and Defence ministers in Sydney.Credit:AP

A senior figure in the Morrison government said it was not concerned about the next Japanese prime minister immediately junking the country’s foreign policies, but Abe had provided a level of stability and they hoped that would continue.

“There probably wasn’t another leader who had been so close to all our recent PMs, and they saw the world in a very similar way,” the source said.

Likely contenders to take over include Abe’s close aide Fumio Kishida, foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Shigeru Ishiba, a former defence minister, while it has been reported that current deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso will not run for the leadership.

Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute, said Australia didn’t have poor relations with any of the contenders, “but we don’t have the same level of political intimacy that we had with Abe”.

Japan's Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.Credit:AP

He said Australian relations with Japan had never been closer and “Abe has been a major part of that”.

“Australia’s past three PMs all wrote heartfelt and quite emotional tributes to Abe on their social media accounts. Apart from perhaps [former Indonesian president] Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, it is hard to remember such outpourings for any other contemporary Asian leader,” McGregor said.

“Abe is a tribally conservative leader. That has made him a natural fit for recent Australian PMs.”

McGregor said said there will not be any sudden change in Japan’s foreign policy but it was an open question whether any of the contenders would be as committed to initiatives such as the Quad alliance as Abe.

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“China and Japanese relations hit rock bottom in 2012 and Abe has, without giving up on any of the red lines and standing firm, managed to rebuild them,” he said.

“The gradually improving relationship has sort of hit a bit of a wall, and whoever takes over next will face some difficulties in that relationship.

“The Chinese want to wear Japan down so they have to negotiate over the Senkaku Islands and really water down and weaken the security alliance. And many Japanese worry China will succeed, particularly if US power continues to wane.”

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