Former Japanese minister of foreign affairs Fumio Kishida yesterday won the leadership election of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and is set to become the nation’s next prime minister.
Kishida replaces Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as party leader, with Suga stepping down after serving only one year since taking office in September last year.
As leader of the LDP, Kishida is certain to be elected the next prime minister on Monday next week in parliament, where his party and its coalition partner control both houses.
In his victory speech, Kishida vowed to tackle Japan’s “national crises,” including COVID-19, an economy battered by the pandemic, and the declining population and birthrate, while pursuing “important issues related to Japan’s future” through a vision of “a free and open Indo-Pacific” that counters China’s assertiveness in the region.
Kishida beat Japanese Minister for Administrative Reform and Regulatory Reform Taro Kono, who is in charge of overseeing the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination program, in a runoff after finishing only one vote ahead of him in the first round, in which none of the four candidates, including two women, won a majority.
Kishida’s 257-170 win in the second round showed that he garnered more support from party heavyweights, who apparently chose stability over change advocated by Kono.
Kishida said that he has heard from many people complaining that they were being ignored.
“I felt our democracy is in a crisis,” he said.
“I, Fumio Kishida, have a special skill of listening to people. I am determined to make an effort toward making a more open LDP and a bright future for Japan together with you all,” he added.
He has called for a further increase in Japan’s defense capability and budget, and vowed to stand up to China in tensions over Taiwan and Beijing’s crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.
However, little change is expected in key diplomatic and security policies under the new leader, said Yu Uchiyama, a political science professor at the University of Tokyo.
Kishida also supports close Japan-US security ties, and partnerships with other like-minded democracies in Asia and Europe, in part to counter China and North Korea.
Specifically, Kishida has said that wants to beef up Japan’s coast guard and backs passing of a resolution condemning China’s treatment of members of the Uighur minority.
He wants to appoint a prime ministerial aide to monitor their human rights situation.
“Taiwan is the biggest question for me,” said Jeffrey Hornung, senior political scientist at RAND Corp.
The outgoing Suga administration had been public in having conversations about Taiwan, Hornung said.
“It will be interesting to see whether the new leader takes this approach, such as advocating for Taiwan’s inclusion in” the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, he said.
Taiwan last week applied to join the trade agreement.
Additional reporting by Reuters and staff writer
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