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Motegi to stay Japan’s foreign minister in message of continuity

  • October 2, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 5:14 a.m.
  • English Press

JUNNOSUKE KOBARA and KEN MORIYASU, Nikkei staff writers


TOKYO/NEW YORK — Fumio Kishida, the newly elected leader of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, plans to reappoint Toshimitsu Motegi as foreign minister, Nikkei has learned.


Kishida is set to be elected Japan’s 100th prime minister at an extraordinary parliamentary session on Monday, and intends to appoint his cabinet that same day.


Motegi has served as foreign minister since September 2019, when he was selected by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He kept his post under Abe’s successor Yoshihide Suga and has made the pursuit of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) the centerpiece of his message as he traveled to Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.


In January, he was invited by the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council to brief members on the FOIP concept.


Kishida’s choice to keep Motegi on as foreign minister is seen as a message of continuation, a move analysts said will be welcomed in the U.S. and Europe.


“Motegi was part of the two-plus-two with the Biden administration earlier in the year,” said Patrick Cronin, the Asia-Pacific security chair at the Washington-based Hudson Institute think tank, referring to the foreign affairs and defense ministers consultations. “This kind of continuity you want to see. Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken and the entire Biden administration are going to welcome a partner they know how to work closely with.”


Another two-plus-two meeting is scheduled for later this year, when discussions will include the “roles, missions and capabilities” of both sides to prepare for regional contingencies.


“Japan under Kishida and the United States under Biden are willing to take some unprecedented steps forward. I see further deepening of this relationship coming in very tangible ways,” Cronin said.


Elli-Katharina Pohlkamp, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Motegi’s reappointment symbolizes both continuity in terms of foreign policy, “but at the same time keeping and satisfying [Kishida’s] political capital within the Liberal Democratic Party, since he was supported by Motegi and his faction during the party election.”


Motegi is acting chief of the ruling party’s Takeshita faction.


Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who has been in the role since 2019, is expected to stay on under the new government. (Photo by Kosuke Imamura)

Such political capital will be needed as Kishida formulates his China policy. Pohlkamp said Kishida “will not make a decisive break with the policies of the Suga and Abe administrations,” but does believe the new prime minister will keep his nuanced approach to China.


“During his election campaign, he made it clear that Japan should not only defend its basic principles by confronting China but should also maintain its good economic relationship with the country,” she noted.


Any innovative, courageous or proactive policy regarding China will require significant political capital within the LDP, and trust domestically and internationally, Pohlkamp said. The retention of Motegi looks to be the first step in that direction.


Announcing the new LDP leadership team at a Friday news conference, Kishida said: “I want to demonstrate unity within the party, and a strong resolve that we will head into the lower house election together.”


The lower house’s current term ends on Oct. 21, and Kishida is expected to dissolve the chamber in a few weeks for a vote in early November.


“We must tackle economic policies in earnest in order to protect the people’s livelihoods,” he said.


Kishida will also name Shunichi Suzuki, a member of the LDP’s powerful Aso faction, to replace longtime Finance Minister Taro Aso.


Suzuki led the group of lawmakers who endorsed Kishida for the leadership race, and is Aso’s brother-in-law.


Kishida is expected to name the Hosoda faction’s Hirokazu Matsuno as chief cabinet secretary, who serves as the prime minister’s right-hand man. Matsuno was education and science minister in the Abe government.


Seiji Kihara and Yoshihiko Isozaki, both from Kishida’s own faction, will be named deputy chief cabinet secretaries.

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