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POLITICS

FM Kono suddenly emerges as “post-Abe” hopeful

  • November 24, 2017
  • , Sankei , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

Foreign Minister Taro Kono has suddenly emerged as a “post-Abe” candidate as he has been praised highly for his push for stronger pressure on North Korea and his firm attitude toward China and South Korea in dealing with wartime history issues.

 

Kono clearly said in an interview with the Sankei Shimbun that he would run for a presidential election of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the future. But he maintained a cautious stance toward throwing his hat into the presidential race ring in September 2018, which possibly came from his decision to accumulate achievements while supporting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

 

Three people are currently considered to be likely candidates to succeed Abe. They are LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida, who supported the Abe government for four years and seven months as foreign minister, former LDP secretary-general Shigeru Ishiba, who distances himself from the prime minister, and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda, who vowed to run for the next LDP presidential race.

 

Meanwhile, Kono had never been considered a strong favorite to succeed Abe before assuming the post of foreign minister as he was once called a “heretic” due to his radical criticism of bureaucrats. He contested the LDP presidential election in 2009, when the party fell from power, but received the fewest number of votes from LDP Diet members. Also, Kono’s appointment as foreign minister initially caused concern that China and South Korea will cajole him by politically taking advantage of the fact the he is the son of pro-China politician and former Lower House speaker Yohei Kono.

 

But when the young Kono met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi for the first time, he told the overbearing Wang, “It is necessary for China to learn how to behave as a major power.” The Japanese foreign minister also proved that he is different from his father by clearly showing the stance of holding his ground in dealing with the comfort women issue with South Korea. Kono also has the advantage of having a good relationship with two key government figures — Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who heads his own LDP faction to which Kono belongs, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in the same election as Kono.

 

Still, one veteran lawmaker says that Kono “is a maverick and not very caring for those around him.” His theories of phasing out nuclear power and cutting Japan’s official development assistance in half are unpopular within the LDP and are causes for concern. He currently remains mum on his standpoints. But what will he do when he fully enters the post-Abe race? There are challenges in store for Kono.

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