Former Japanese finance minister Naoto Kan became Japan’s new leader yesterday, pledging economic recovery and close ties with Washington after his predecessor quit over a festering dispute about a US air base.
A parliamentary vote confirmed Kan as the successor to Yukio Hatoyama, who tearfully resigned as Japanese prime minister on Wednesday, citing the row over the base on Japan’s Okinawa island and money scandals that sullied his government.
Kan, a former leftist activist, is Japan’s fifth prime minister in four years, and the first in more than a decade who does not hail from a political dynasty.
The 63-year-old previously served as finance minister and deputy prime minister in Hatoyama’s center-left government, which came to power last year in a landslide election, ending half a century of almost non-stop conservative rule.
“My first job is to rebuild the country, and to create a party in which all members can stand up together and say with confidence: ‘We can do it,’” a smiling Kan said after his party earlier installed him as its new leader.
Kan vowed to revitalize Asia’s biggest economy, which has been in the doldrums since an investment bubble collapsed in the early 1990s.
“For the past 20 years, the Japanese economy has been at a standstill,” Kan said. “Growth has stopped. Young people can’t find jobs. This is not a natural phenomenon. It resulted from policy mistakes.”
“I believe we can achieve a strong economy, strong finances and strong social welfare all at the same time,” he said, pledging to reduce Japan’s huge public debt, which is nearing 200 percent of GDP.
On foreign policy, Kan pointed at the threat posed by North Korea, the isolated and nuclear-armed regime that has been blamed for the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March.
“Japan has a lot of problems, including the North Korean issue,” said Kan, adding that US-Japanese ties remain the “cornerstone” of foreign policy after Hatoyama badly strained relations with Washington over the base issue.
He also said he would maintain Japan’s goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, one of the most ambitious targets of any country, and to seek an EU-style Asian community in the future.
It was not clear whether Kan would stick with the expected July 11 date of upper house elections or delay the vote, in which his coalition will fight to keep its wafer-thin majority.