The inevitable is now official from Tokyo. The leader of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, Fumio Kishida, has been elected the country’s Prime Minister.
Observers say Prime Minister Kishida’s biggest challenge now would be to lead his party in a general election to be held by November 28 this year. He has to do so in the face of the growing criticism of his predecessor Yoshihide Suga’s handling of the pandemic. The Suga ministry had also been rocked by the notorious ethics and gift scandals.
Besides, Prime Minister Kishida needs to move forward on the fronts of the country’s defence and diplomacy. His predecessor Suga consolidated Japan’s alliance with the United States and strengthened its cooperation with European nations on security. He, however, moved little to put Japan’s relations with China, the two Koreas, and Russia on the right track.
Beijing continues to pursue its aggressive policies in the region. Japan’s rift with South Korea over issues of history is where it was. North Korea remains too ambitious about its nuclear-missile programme in the region. Japan’s friction with Russia over the then Soviet Union’s seizure of its four islands off the eastern coast of Hokkaido is yet to be resolved.
Kishida has had a huge experience in politics and administration. His father and grandfather were members of Japan’s House of Representatives. His career in politics started with a job as his father’s secretary. In 1993, Kishida won a parliamentary seat from Hiroshima. Since then, he has been a nine-term member of the House. He served as the LDP’s policy chief from 2017 to 2020. He was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Foreign Minister from 2012 to 2017.
Kishida belongs to a traditionally dovish faction in his party. Once he was being considered to be Prime Minister Abe’s heir-apparent. Abe still has a lot of influence over a wide range of LDP legislators as well as the members of the LDP’s largest faction. Last week, he helped Kishida win in the run-off between the two top vote-getters in the first round of the LDP leadership poll. In Kishida’s Cabinet heavyweight posts may go to allies of Abe.
Kishida has already shown a willingness to carry on Abe’s efforts to have the Diet initiate amendments to the Constitution, including the one to establish a constitutional status of the Self-Defence Forces. He may go in for building Japan’s missile-strike capability and developing its nuclear-powered submarines. He may also decide joining the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance.
Relations between India and Japan can be expected to get better under Kishida’s premiership. Like Abe, Kishida has been very close to the idea of fostering warmer ties between Japan and India as well as (the US, Australia, and other democratic Asian powers). In his capacity as Japan’s Foreign Minister, he interacted well with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his predecessor Manmohan Singh.
During his visit to New Delhi in 2015, Kishida promised Japan would contribute to Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative and support India to become a base of economic growth for the Indo-Pacific region and the world. He proposed strengthening three bridges–of values, vibrant economy and open seas—for the region. Kishida also said New Delhi and Tokyo should become driving forces for reforms in the United Nations Security Council and for that the G4 (Japan, India, Germany, and Brazil) work together.