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PM Kishida focuses on “Kantei-led” diplomacy

By Nagahara Shingo


Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has demonstrated he would like the Kantei to take the lead in diplomacy. In the former Abe Shinzo administration, Abe and the bureaucrats in the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei] took the lead in diplomacy, while the previous Suga Yoshihide administration had the Foreign Ministry lead diplomacy.


As Kishida is the longest-serving foreign minister in the postwar era, he has a network of contacts in many countries. Kishida has been steadily laying the groundwork to consolidate his style of diplomacy by appointing Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, who is the second-ranking lawmaker in the Kishida faction (Kochikai) and most trusted by Kishida.


“The Kantei should take the lead in diplomacy,” Abe advised Kishida after he took office. Kishida served as foreign minister in the Abe administration.


During the second Abe administration, which started in 2012, the Kantei took the lead in diplomacy. Abe built a trust relationship with foreign leaders such as former U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and promoted the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” initiative.


At the same time, Abe appointed Kitamura Shigeru from the National Policy Agency, whom Abe highly trusts, as secretary-general of the National Security Secretariat (NSS), which is the control center for diplomacy and security.


In diplomacy with Russia and China, Abe’s aides from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, such as Imai Takaya and others, increased their presence. Imai served as Abe’s private secretary.


In contrast, the previous Suga administration returned to the bottom-up style of diplomacy led by the foreign ministry. Suga appointed Akiba Takeo from the Foreign Ministry as the NSS secretary-general. Due to the spread of COVID-19, the Kantei had a smaller presence in diplomacy than it did during the Abe administration.


As Kishida served as foreign minister for four years and eight months, the longest continuous term in the postwar era, he, like Abe, has connections with many foreign leaders.


On Nov. 2, Kishida made first foreign trip to attend the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) summit-level meeting in the UK. He received a warm welcome from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who also served as foreign minister. During COP26, there were times when Kishida was surrounded by leaders of various countries, drawing crowds.


As for the U.S., Japan’s ally, since Kishida was foreign minister during the administration of President Barack Obama from the Democratic Party, he has American contacts, including former Secretary of State John Kerry, who serves as special presidential envoy for climate in the Biden administration.


“I am proud of having engaged in diplomacy for four years and eight months,” Kishida told his close associates. “I want to conduct ‘Kantei-led’ diplomacy.” The appointment of Hayashi as foreign minister, who is close to Kishida, also signals his desire to take control of the Foreign Ministry and advance diplomacy integral with the Kantei. 


On the other hand, it is unclear who will take over the roles played by Imai and Kitamura under the Abe administration. Kishida’s future challenge will be to create a system in the Kantei to develop diplomacy under his leadership.


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