Japan’s leader strives to honor Abe’s legacy, while building his own

TOKYO – Fumio Kishida spent years trying to rise above the shadow of Shinzo Abeformer prime minister of Japan, who was was shot down at a rally on July 8.

Since both were elected to the Republican Party in 1993, as the Japanese National Assembly is known, Mr. Abe has been the most popular politician of all. A charismatic presence, he’s honest Mr. Kishida, a party supporter who can be so hard a female student recently asked him about the last time he actually laughed. (His answer: whenever his beloved baseball team, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, wins.)

After Mr. Kishida finally – on his second attempt – made it to the prime minister’s office, Mr. Abe continued to tease him from the sidelines. He brought up controversial ideas, such as the proposal that Japan possessed nuclear weapons from the United States, and warned that financial markets might view Mr. Kishida’s economic policies as “societal”. ideologies” and react badly to them.

Now, after the assassination, Mr. Kishida, 64, is trying to honor Mr. Abe while proving that he can set himself apart from the legacy of Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

“A few years ago, Kishida was almost seen as someone who had no chance of becoming prime minister,” said Mikitaka Masuyama, a professor of political science at the National Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. Now, he said, “we have to find out if Kishida really has the ability and leadership qualities to run the government and control” his Liberal Democratic Party.

The looming question for Mr. Kishida is how he will use his political capital, reinforced by the victory in the election to the Senate a week ago. The Prime Minister has indicated that he will move forward with Mr. Abe’s most cherished goals, including amending the peace clause in Structure giving up war, as well as increasing defense spending.

Last week, Mr. Kishida was quick to say he would deal with “difficult problems” that Mr. Abe had “put his heart into” but “wasn’t able to complete”. He promised to “dramatically strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities within five years”.

As with Mr. Abe’s death, the geopolitical circumstances will determine Mr. Kishida’s choice. The war in Ukraine and growing military threats from China and North Korea has spurred Mr. Kishida, who previously identified himself as a moderate, liberal member of the Liberal Democratic Party, to take on a more hawkish cover.

In the face of regional pressure, “increasing defense spending is no longer an option for Tokyo,” said Titli Basu, a fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis in New Delhi.

Most Japanese recognize those threats: in polls, a majority favor an increase in the defense budget. And while the public once vehemently opposed the pacifist Constitutional amendment, surveys in the spring indicated that a majority would now consider it.

Mr. Kishida is “saying things that in the past, anyone who said that would have divided politics,” said Rahm Emanuel, US Ambassador to Japan. “There’s consensus building partly on his part, and partly on the facts.”

In the nine months since the party chose Kishida as prime minister, he has steadily expanded on the shrewd foreign policy that was the hallmark of Mr. Abe’s rule.

He has also quietly differentiated himself from his predecessor.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Mr. Kishida strongly condemned Russia’s actions without hesitation and Sanctions were issued quickly. Eight years ago, Mr. Abe, keen to bolster ties with President Vladimir V. Putin, pulled his foot on the imposition of sanctions after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Like Mr. Abe, Mr. Kishida entered politics as the son and grandson of members of Parliament.

As young lawmakers entering the lower house of parliament the same year, Mr. Kishida and Mr. Abe sometimes work as a pair. Shinobu Konno, a political commentator, recently reiterated on ANN News, a Japanese television network, that the two went to Taiwan on a diplomatic mission in 1997, with Mr. Mr. Kishida is his deputy.

“Mr. Kishida is a strong drinker but a boring talker,” said Mr. Konno. “And Mr. Abe is a good speaker but not a strong drinker, so they split. Mr. Kishida is in charge of drinking and will compete with Taiwan’s stronger drinkers, while Mr. Abe is in charge of chatting and getting people excited.”

During Mr. Abe’s first brief stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007, Mr. Kishida served as minister of state in charge of affairs for Okinawa and the Northern Territories. After Mr. Abe returned to power in 2012, he appointed his old friend foreign minister, a post Mr. Kishida would hold longer than anyone else in Japan’s post-World War II history. .

But when Mr. Abe stepped down in 2020, he threw his weight behind another man, Yoshihide Suga, to succeed him. Mr. Suga defeated Mr. Kishida by a party vote margin of nearly 4-1.

Mr. Kishida began by trying to differentiate himself from Mr. Abe, presenting a “new capitalism” as a departure from Mr. Abe’s famous economic background, known as “Abenomics”. Mr. Kishida said he wanted to narrow income inequality and suggested raising some taxes.

He has since retracted that claim and appears to have accepted Mr. Abe’s calls to double defense spending and amend the Constitution.

Still, it’s clear to analysts that Mr Kishida is trying to be his own person.

Give a keynote speech last month at a security forum hosted by Singaporehe noted that Germany announced it would increase its defense budget to 2% of annual economic output – a target Mr. Abe has sought for Japan. But Mr Kishida did not give a numerical target, instead pledging to “significantly increase”. Furthermore, he said that Japan would “conduct within the confines of our Constitution.”

Yuki Tatsumi, director of the Japan Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, said she sees Mr Kishida as “pushing back on some of the things Abe is pushing him for in the court of public opinion”.

Most recently on Thursday, Mr. Kishida, referring to defense spending, said that “we have to be realistic and specific in our discussions but at the same time, not to be numbers-driven”.

Economic realities can reduce the ability to set drastic goals. With inflation rising, discount yenWith coronavirus infections on the rise and in the long run, with an aging population and falling birthrate, Mr. Kishida may find himself without the money to pay for all of the government’s priorities.

The pace of change in Japan’s traditions may be in Mr Kishida’s favor. Consensus building is valued and incremental progress – rather than radical transformation – is the norm.

“It’s been a slow progression over time as North Korea and China’s rise to Japan’s security has heightened perceptions of Japan’s security,” said Jeffrey Hornung, a senior political scientist at RAND. public and politicians that more needs to be done.” The company specializes in security and foreign policy of Japan. “As long as Kishida continues to go slow and steady, I think he will be fine.”

Makiko Inoue contribution report.

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