Fumio Kishida, the new leader of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, will take office as prime minister on Monday and form his cabinet, tasked with keeping COVID-19 under control while reviving a struggling economy.
The former foreign minister will also seek to strengthen cooperation with the United States to counter China’s growing assertiveness and military build-up and deal with North Korea’s recent resumption of ballistic missile testing.
Fumio Kishida sits in the chair reserved for the chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party at the Japanese ruling party’s headquarters in Tokyo on September 29, 2021. (Kyodo)
Kishida, 64, is virtually guaranteed to be elected prime minister in an extraordinary parliamentary session on Monday as the ruling PLD-led coalition controls both chambers.
The new prime minister’s first major test will be a general election in November in which he will have to challenge his image as a moderate consensus builder who struggles to excite voters.
Signaling a break with the “neoliberal policies” the government has pursued over the past two decades, Kishida pledged to increase middle class incomes and reduce wealth disparities.
An economic package worth “tens of billions of yen” is in the works to help people and businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
Kishida’s rise to prime minister comes after his predecessor Yoshihide Suga announced his resignation last month after just a year in office amid criticism of his response to COVID-19.
With around 60% of Japan’s population fully vaccinated and infections on the decline, Kishida will be responsible for leading the gradual lifting of restrictions on social and business activities and the opening of the border to foreign travelers.
Like Suga and Shinzo Abe before him, Kishida asserts that Japan will strive for a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” a not-so-subtle attack on Beijing’s expansion measures in the South and East China Seas and reflecting concerns over tensions in the Taiwan Strait.
When Kishida takes up his cabinet on Monday, he is expected to retain Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, 65, while appointing former education minister Hirokazu Matsuno, 59, as chief cabinet secretary.
Often referred to as the backbone of an administration, the role of Chief Cabinet Secretary involves holding press conferences twice a day as the main spokesperson for the government and coordinating policy between different ministries and agencies.
The post of finance minister is set to change hands for the first time in eight years and 10 months, with former Environment Minister Shunichi Suzuki, 68, replacing his brother-in-law and PLD heavyweight Taro Aso.
Kishida plans to keep Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda, 58, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa, 68, and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, 62, in Cabinet and assess the portfolios he will tell them, according to people familiar with the plan.
He also plans to create a new ministerial post for economic security in a veiled counterattack to China’s alleged theft of technology.
It was not immediately clear who will take office, but the new minister is expected to develop a national strategy designed to end the exodus of intellectual property from Japan.
In the new LDP executive formation, Kishida appointed former Minister of Economic and Fiscal Policy Akira Amari, 72, as Secretary General and Sanae Takaichi, 60, one of his rivals in the race for leadership of the PLD and outright conservative, as political leader.