Japan’s leader tries to honor Abe’s legacy by creating his own

TOKYO. Fumio Kishida spent years trying to get out of the shadows Shinzo Abeformer Prime Minister of Japan, shot dead at an election rally on 8 July.

Since both were elected to parliament in 1993, as the Japanese parliament is known, Mr. Abe has been a more prominent politician. Charismatic presence, he eclipsed mr. Kishida, party supporter who can be so tough a schoolgirl recently asked him about the last time he really laughed. (His answer: whenever his favorite baseball team, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, wins.)

After Mr. Kishida finally got up to the Prime Minister’s office on his second attempt, Mr. Abe continued to pick on him from the outside. He put forward controversial ideas, such as a proposal to host US nuclear weapons with Japan, and warned that financial markets could clash with Mr. Kishida’s economic policies are labeled as “socialist” and are poorly received.

Now, after G.’s assassination, Kishida, 64, is trying to honor Mr. Abe’s memory by proving that he can stand out from the legacy of Japan’s longest serving prime minister.

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

The burning question for Mr. Kishida is how he will spend his political capital, facilitated by the victory in the elections to the upper house of parliament a week ago. The Prime Minister has already signaled that he will take action to pass the law d. Abe’s most cherished goals, including the revision of the pacifist Constitution that renounces the war, as well as increasing defense spending.

Last week, Mr. Kishida was quick to say that he would take on the “difficult questions” that Mr. Abe “poured out his passion” but “couldn’t get it.” He promised to “drastically improve Japan’s defense capability within five years.”

As far as Mr. Abe’s death, geopolitical circumstances will dictate Mr. Kishida’s choice. War in Ukraine and growing military threats from China and North Korea prompted Mr. Kishida, who had previously posed as a liberal-minded and dovish member of the Liberal Democrats, to take on a more hawkish mantle.

Given regional pressures, “an increase in defense spending is no longer a must for Tokyo,” said Titley Basu, a research fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis in New Delhi.

Most Japanese are aware of these threats: according to polls, the majority support an increase in the defense budget. And while the public once vehemently opposed a revision of the pacifist constitution, polls in the spring showed that the majority would now consider it.

mr. Kishida “says things that in the past, whoever said it, caused political controversy,” said Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan. “There is a consensus that is partly due to him and partly due to events.”

In the nine months since the party elected Mr. Kishida as prime minister, he has steadily expanded the boundless diplomacy that has been Mr. Abe’s hallmark.

It also subtly differed from its predecessor.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Mr. Kishida did not hesitate to strongly condemn Russia’s actions and quickly imposed sanctions. Eight years ago, Mr. Abe, eager to mend relations with President Vladimir Putin, delayed imposing sanctions after Russia annexed Crimea.

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

As young deputies who entered the lower house in the same year, G. Kishida and Mr. Abe sometimes worked in pairs. Shinobu Konno, a political commentator, recently recalled on the Japanese television network ANN News that in 1997 they both went to Taiwan on a diplomatic mission with Mr. Taiwan. Abe as head of the group and Mr. Kishida as his deputy.

“Mr. Kishida was a heavy drinker but a boring talker,” said Mr. Konno. and had to compete with the stronger Taiwanese drinkers, while Mr. Q. Abe was in charge of talking and getting everyone excited.”

During Abe’s brief first tenure as prime minister from 2006 to 2007. Kishida served as Minister of State for Okinawa and the Northern Territories. After Mr. Abe returned to power in 2012, he appointed his old friend as foreign minister. Kishida would last longer than anyone else in Japanese history after World War II.

But when Mr. Abe stepped down in 2020, he backed another man Yoshihide Sugato change it. mr. Suga defeated Mr. Kishida party vote nearly four to one.

mr. Kishida started by trying to be different from Mr. Case. Abe, proposing “new capitalism” as a departure from d. Abe’s well-known economic platform, called “Abenomics.” mr. Kishida said he wanted to reduce income inequality and suggested raising some taxes.

He has since toned down that rhetoric and appears to have embraced Mr. Black. Abe calls for doubling defense spending and amending the constitution.

However, analysts are seeing glimpses of Mr. Kishida trying to stand on his own.

Delivered the keynote speech last month at security forum hosted by Singaporehe noted that Germany has announced that it will increase its defense budget to 2 percent of its annual output. is the target Mr. Abe was looking for Japan. But Mr. Kishida did not name a quantitative target, but instead promised a “substantial increase.” Moreover, he said that Japan “will act within the framework of our Constitution.”

Yuki Tatsumi, director of the Japan Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, said she saw Mr. Kishida as “refuting some of the things that Abe was pushing on him in the court of public opinion.”

As recently as Thursday, Mr. Kishida, speaking on defense spending, said “we need to be realistic and specific in our discussions, but at the same time not be numbers-driven.”

Economic reality may undermine the possibility of setting radical goals. In the face of rising inflation, depreciation of the yenan increase in coronavirus infections and, in the longer term, an aging population and a declining birth rate, Mr Kishida may find he doesn’t have the money to pay for all the government’s priorities.

The traditional pace of change in Japan may be on Mr. Kishida’s page. Building consensus is valued and incremental progress rather than radical transformation is the norm.

“It has been a slow evolution over time as North Korea and China’s increasing weakening of Japan’s security has led to increased public and policy awareness that more needs to be done,” said Jeffrey Hornung, a senior political scientist at RAND. Corporation specializing in Japanese security and foreign policy. “As long as Kishida continues to move slowly and steadily, I think he’ll be fine.”

Makiko Inoue made a report.