Editorial

Change of guard: On Japan’s new PM

The election of Fumio Kishida as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader opens a new chapter in Japan’s otherwise status-quoist politics at a time when its geopolitical prominence is growing amid China’s rapid rise and the United States’ pivot to the region. Mr. Kishida, a former Foreign Minister, is certain to be elected the next Prime Minister when Parliament convenes next week, as the LDP controls the legislature. Japan was thrown into a leadership contest after the unpopular Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, announced his resignation earlier this month amid mounting public anger over his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated economic woes. The traditionally conservative, pro-business LDP, which has dominated Japan’s post-war politics, was apparently not confident of going to the parliamentary polls in November under the leadership of Mr. Suga; his approval rating had plunged from 60% in January to below 30% in August. In the initial round of the voting on Wednesday among four candidates to lead the party, Mr. Kishida was neck-and-neck with Taro Kono, a serving Minister in the Suga government, who enjoyed higher popularity among the party’s rank and file. But in the run-off, most legislators supported Mr. Kishida, who had the backing of the LDP establishment.

Mr. Kishida’s most immediate big task is leading the party to the parliamentary elections within weeks. With the COVID situation easing, the LDP appears to be confident of victory under the new leadership. But winning elections would only be the first of a host of key challenges awaiting Mr. Kishida. He needs to come up with a programme to lift the world’s third largest economy out of its sluggishness. Even when the U.S. and China had surged back to growth after COVID lockdowns, Japan’s economy continued to falter under the long national emergency declared to fight the virus. Despite the LDP’s conservative past, Mr. Kishida had taken a centre-left position on the economy during the campaign. He promised increased spending to revive the economy and asked corporations to distribute more of their profits to middle-class workers. What is to be seen is whether these were instances of mere election-time rhetoric or if Mr. Kishida would turn them into policies to address Japan’s economic woes and widening inequality. A tougher challenge would be in the realm of foreign policy. After announcing the AUKUS alliance with the U.K. and Australia, under which Australia would be supplied nuclear submarines, the U.S. has made it clear that the Indo-Pacific is the new theatre of great power rivalry. Japan, an American ally in the Pacific with deep economic ties with China, would find it difficult to sit on the fence for long. Mr. Kishida, who called Taiwan “a frontline in the struggle by democracies against authoritarianism” and supported building Japan’s missile-strike capability, has already indicated which direction he would be taking on China. If he walks the talk, tensions are going to rise in East Asia.


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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 4:39:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/change-of-guard-the-hindu-editorial-on-japans-new-pm/article36743750.ece

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