BY SATOSHI SUGIYAMA, STAFF WRITER
Fumio Kishida, the Liberal Democratic Party’s policy council chairman and one of three contenders in its leadership election, took a swing Thursday at the leading candidate, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, unveiling campaign pledges promising economic and foreign policies that would succeed but differentiate from those of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“No policies work the same for five or 10 years consecutively; it’s basic that the world isn’t that simple as times change,” Kishida said at a news conference. “Besides, as we face this battle with the novel coronavirus and very difficult times domestically, our party needs to choose a new leader. I’ll battle through this presidential election by presenting my thoughts and viewpoints toward a new era.”
Kishida attempted to draw a distinction from Suga, who declared his candidacy Wednesday and essentially stole the policy council chief’s thunder by identifying himself as Abe’s successor — a title that was supposed to be handed down.
Touting the slogan “from division to unity,” Kishida also took a subtle swipe at Abe, whose policies have been criticized as polarizing, and thus also Suga, seeking to brand himself as someone capable of bringing out his own character.
In the Abe administration, Kisida served as foreign minister for four years and eight months. He was expected to run in the party’s 2018 presidential election, but he ultimately decided to bow out in deference to Abe — allowing him to return to power for a third term.
Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister who is also running in the forthcoming leadership vote, persisted in 2018 with a straight battle against Abe. He has since been subjected to cold treatment within the party.
Until recently, the prime minister had cherished Kishida as his favored successor. But after announcing he would step down, Abe declined to endorse Kishida, paving the way for five out of seven LDP major factions to back Suga.
Against the backdrop of the prime minister’s expectations, Kishida has so far held back from obtaining public approval or wielding the influence afforded by his role as chair of the party’s policy council, especially during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Although the notice of the election won’t be issued until next week, he seems to be struggling to gain support beyond his 47-member caucus.
On the economy, while Suga has insisted on maintaining the Abe administration’s Abenomics, Kishida has emphasized the issue of inequality — which has been blamed by some on the prime minister’s namesake policy. Although Kishida defended its effect of boosting the nation’s gross domestic product, corporate profits and employment, he acknowledged concerns that its benefits have not necessarily trickled down to the middle class and regions outside of greater metro areas.
While pledging to maintain the administration’s current fiscal and monetary policies, Kishida backs supporting housing and education to rectify the wealth gap, as well as taking advantage of 5G and “big data” to solidify the Abenomics growth strategy in delivering remote education and medical care.
Kishida also cited issues of protectionism as well as nationalism. He said he would take over Abe’s “shared-values diplomacy” but expressed willingness for Japan to continue taking a lead in rule-making over the environment, energy, health care and nuclear disarmament for international cooperation — not just for the sake of a power game.
Mentioning that his constituency is Hiroshima and that his ideal was a world without nuclear weapons, Kishida said he would tackle the problem with policies that incorporated both the reality and the ideal.
“Compared with the time when I was a foreign minister, the world order itself is undergoing a major shift as we face a battle against the novel coronavirus,” he said.
“There could be a scenario in which a country like Japan, an island nation without resources and its population dwindling, wouldn’t be able to thrive in international society, or even survive,” Kishida cautioned. “I believe we should strive toward becoming a country that has ‘strategic indispensability’ … a country regarded as important in international society.”