• Kyodo

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New Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi pledged Thursday to safeguard universal values as well as the peace and stability of Japan and other parts of the world in the face of China's military buildup and assertive territorial claims.

"We are seeing more serious challenges to universal values, which have sustained peace and the stability of the international community, and the international order," Hayashi said at his first news conference since assuming the post on Wednesday following the relaunch of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's Cabinet.

Hayashi, a 60-year-old Lower House lawmaker often seen as holding a "pro-China" stance, also said he has decided to quit as the head of a cross-party parliamentary group promoting Japan-China friendship, after serving for about four years, "to avoid causing unnecessary misunderstanding."

Former trade minister Yuko Obuchi will succeed Hayashi as head of the Japan-China Friendship Parliamentarians' Union, according to sources close to the matter.

Some hard-line members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have questioned Hayashi's appointment, as his stance toward China may appear weak. Hayashi has apparently taken such concerns into consideration by choosing to distance himself from the parliamentary group.

Referring to "Beijing's unilateral attempts to change the status quo," Hayashi said Japan will "argue what should be argued, and ask China to behave responsibly," while communicating and cooperating with Beijing to tackle common problems "to build constructive and stable relations."

In the wake of such attempts as well as other security challenges such as the threat posed by North Korea's missile and nuclear programs, Hayashi underscored the increasing importance of the alliance between Japan and the United States, calling it "the basis for peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region."

Asked about a plan for Chinese President Xi Jinping to make his first state visit to Japan since becoming president in 2013, Hayashi said it is too early to arrange the schedule, citing the need to monitor the COVID-19 situation.

The visit had been set for April last year but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On South Korea, Hayashi demanded "appropriate actions" by Seoul to resolve disputes over wartime labor and compensation based on Japan's position so that the two countries could restore a "healthy relationship."

Having previously served as defense, agriculture, education, and economic and fiscal policy minister, Hayashi was named foreign minister by Kishida, who was re-elected as prime minister after his ruling coalition won a general election last month.

Hayashi graduated from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government before winning a House of Councilors seat in 1995. He changed his seat to the Lower House in the latest general election.

Hayashi is the son of former Finance Minister Yoshiro Hayashi. His father also served as chairman of the Japan-China Friendship Parliamentarians' Union when he was a lawmaker.

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