MITSURU OBE, Nikkei Asia chief business news correspondent
TOKYO — Sanae Takaichi burnished her conservative credentials in launching her bid Wednesday to lead Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, stressing the need to strengthen economic security to counter an increasingly aggressive China.
Takaichi, a 60-year-old former Japanese internal affairs minister, is seeking to represent the hawkish wing of the party that has dominated postwar Japanese politics. She has reportedly been backed by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who led the country from 2012 to 2020.
Takaichi told reporters in Tokyo that she would loosen Japan’s fiscal shackles, and create a government agency focused on cybersecurity.
She said that she would prioritize creating a strong economy as the foundation for a strong country. She echoed Abe’s economics program “Abenomics” with her own “Sanaenomics,” that consists of the “three arrows” of monetary easing, flexible fiscal spending and a bold growth program.
She said that Japan had failed to achieve its 2% inflation target because the Abe government was too bound by the fiscal sustainability goal of reducing the primary balance deficits.
Referring to the government’s target of balancing the books by 2025, Takaichi said: “I will declare a temporary freeze on the primary balance goal until the inflation goal is achieved.” But she also said she would not lower the current sales-tax rate.
“We need to prepare for a new war,” she said, citing the risk of possible attacks on Japan in the cyber and space arenas. “Our satellites might come under attack. Undersea cables might become severed. We should focus our resources on building the defenses of our nation.”
In addition to a cybersecurity, she pledged to create a Japanese counterpart to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, to prevent leakage of Japanese technology to rival countries such as China.
Takaichi is the second lawmaker to announce a run for the LDP’s top position after former foreign minister and party policy chief Fumio Kishida. The winner of the party vote on Sept. 29 will succeed Yoshihide Suga as prime minister, because the LDP-led coalition holds a majority in both houses of the parliament. The new leader will take the party into a general election this autumn.
Should Takaichi win, she would become the first female prime minister in a country that still has a long way to go toward gender equality in many workplaces, especially in politics.
She said that when she was pursuing a political career 30 years ago, people around her asked her: “What can a little girl like you do?” She stressed that party has since changed and there will be more women in position of power in the future.
On anti-COVID measures, Takaichi said she would consider legislation to enable the enforcement of lockdowns in the case of future viral outbreaks.
She vowed to increase spending to provide more incentives for medical workers to help deal with the COVID pandemic, help local governments lease hotels to increase accommodation for patients, and make more money available for drug makers so they can expand production of treatments.
“I will make sure that no COVID patients will have to recuperate at home,” she said. “I will speed up the domestic production of COVID treatments,” she said.
She also promised 100 trillion yen for 10 years in government spending to improve the nation’s infrastructure, including power transmissions and natural disaster prevention.
But despite talking of increased female participation, she said that Japan’s imperial family should maintain its tradition of handing down the throne only through the male line of the family — opposing the view that women should also be allowed to accede.
And she said she would continue to visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s battlefield victims including convicted World War II war criminals, saying it was a matter of religious freedom.
Abe faced an international backlash when he last visited Yasukuni as prime minister in December 2013, drawing the wrath of China and South Korea, as well as then U.S. President Barack Obama.