BEIJING (Kyodo) China’s official Xinhua news agency on Sunday ran an urgent news report about Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara’s decision to resign, quoting a Japanese media report.

The Chinese government is believed to be monitoring the situation closely. Maehara was known for his hardline stance against China and was viewed as the leading candidate to replace Kan should the prime minister decide to step down.

A Beijing-based diplomat familiar with Sino-Japanese relations said Chinese officials may view Maehara’s resignation as a positive factor for bilateral relations.

The diplomat, requesting anonymity, said the Chinese government and the diplomatic community in Beijing want to know who Kan will pick to succeed Maehara.

“When the fishing boat collision case occurred near the Senkaku Islands last year, Chinese media criticized Maehara for insisting that Japan take a tough stance against China, which caused the incident to evolve into a major diplomatic row,” the diplomat said.

Ties with China deteriorated sharply last year after the Japan Coast Guard arrested the captain of a Chinese trawler that rammed its patrol ships off the Senkaku Islands in September. The islets are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.

“Some Chinese officials may have been thinking that if Kan were to step down and ‘China-hawk’ Maehara succeeded him, it would be against China’s interests because it would further complicate bilateral relations,” the diplomat said.

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