Japan’s new PM Suga pledges to tackle virus, kickstart economy

Yoshihide Suga  

Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged on Wednesday to keep coronavirus infections under control and kickstart an economy in recession, as Shinzo Abe left office after a record-breaking tenure.

In his first remarks after being elected by Parliament earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Suga emphasised his will be a cabinet of continuity, seeking to further the policies championed by Mr. Abe.

“We need to carry forward the policies that the Abe administration was pushing, I feel that is the mission for which I have been called,” Mr. Suga told reporters. He sidestepped questions on the possibility of a snap election to consolidate his position, saying that “what the public wants right now is that we manage to end the pandemic soon and at the same time we steadily restore the economy”.

“Achieving both the prevention of the spread of infection and rebuilding the economy is what they desire most... We hope to do our best on this issue first.”

He dwelled little on political ideology or foreign policy goals, instead pledging administrative reform, an end to “bureaucratic silos”, and greater digitalisation of government.

He said he would seek continued strong ties with Washington and stable relations with China and Russia. But he offered no details and made no mention of ongoing tensions with South Korea, or any specifics of his defence strategy, particularly towards North Korea.

The 71-year-old takes the top job after decades in politics, most recently in the role of Chief Cabinet Secretary, where he was a key enforcer of government policy as well as spokesman.

A long-time Abe adviser, Mr. Suga has said his run was inspired by a desire to continue his predecessor’s policies. His new Cabinet is full of familiar faces, with Mr. Abe’s Foreign and Finance Ministers staying on, and the outgoing premier’s brother appointed to lead the Defence Ministry.

Mr. Suga won an easy victory in a vote in Parliament, where his Liberal Democratic Party holds a commanding majority. But he now faces a raft of tough challenges, from immediate problems like the pandemic and the postponed Olympics, to longer-term issues including a declining population.