Japan's Kishida to take office as prime minister, form Cabinet Monday

Kyodo News

Posted at Oct 03 2021 10:15 AM | Updated as of Oct 03 2021 09:25 PM

File photo of then Japan Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, taken in November 2015. Courtesy of the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs
File photo of then Japan Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, taken in November 2015. Courtesy of the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs

TOKYO (UPDATE) - Prospective Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday finalized the lineup of a new Cabinet he will launch the following day, retaining Nobuo Kishi as defense minister and giving relatively young ruling party lawmaker Takayuki Kobayashi the newly created post of minister for economic security, as Japan is faced with a host of challenges posed by China.

Kishida is also set to name Seiko Noda, one of his three rivals in last week's leadership election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, as minister in charge of declining birthrate and gender equality issues, paving the way for setting up a government agency for spearheading policies on children.

Kishida, 64, will take office as prime minister on Monday and form his Cabinet, with major challenges being to keep COVID-19 under control and reviving the battered economy.

The former foreign minister is all but guaranteed to be elected as prime minister when an extraordinary parliamentary session convenes Monday since the LDP-led ruling coalition controls both chambers.

His first major test will be a general election in November in which he will need to defy his image as a moderate consensus builder who struggles to excite voters.

Kishida will also be looking to bolster cooperation with the United States to counter China's rising assertiveness and military buildup and address the recent resumption of ballistic missile tests by North Korea.

Intellectual property theft and cyber espionage allegedly committed by Beijing also represent a source of concern for Tokyo and Washington, leading to the creation of a new economic security portfolio to be assumed by the 46-year-old Kobayashi, a former parliamentary vice minister of defense.

Like outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Shinzo Abe before him, Kishida asserts Japan will work toward realizing a "free and open Indo-Pacific," a not-so-subtle jab at Beijing's expansionary moves in the South and East China seas and reflecting concerns over tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

Kishida plans to retain Toshimitsu Motegi as foreign minister and tap education minister Koichi Hagiuda as trade minister and Daishiro Yamagiwa, a former senior vice trade minister, as economic revitalization minister.

Signaling a break from the "neoliberal policies" the government has pursued over the past two decades, Kishida has promised to increase middle-class incomes and reduce wealth disparity.

An economic package worth "tens of trillions of yen" is in the works to help people and businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, he has said.

Kishida's rise to the top office comes after Suga last month announced his resignation after just a year in office amid criticism over his COVID-19 response.

With around 60 percent of Japan's population fully vaccinated and infections in decline, Kishida will be responsible for steering the gradual lifting of restrictions on social and business activity and opening the border to foreign travelers.

When Kishida forms his Cabinet on Monday, he is expected to name Hirokazu Matsuno, a former minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, as chief Cabinet secretary.

Often called the lynchpin of an administration, the role of chief Cabinet secretary entails holding press conferences twice a day as the government's top spokesman and coordinating policy between various 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 to replace his brother-in-law and LDP heavyweight Taro Aso.

In the LDP's new executive lineup, Kishida appointed former economic and fiscal policy minister Akira Amari as secretary general and Sanae Takaichi, one of his rivals in the LDP leadership race and a hard-line conservative, as policy chief.

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