On Wednesday, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) chose former foreign minister and defense minister Fumio Kishida as party leader, succeeding Yoshihide Suga. Suga resigned in early September, following significant criticism of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and popular resistance to his government’s choice to hold the Olympic Games.
Kishida defeated Taro Kono, a former foreign and defense minister, in second-round voting after none of the four contenders in the first round received a majority. He defeated Kono, who is allegedly more popular among the LDP rank and file, by relying on the backing of LDP factions and MPs. Kishida will almost probably be approved as Japan’s new prime minister at a special Diet session on Monday.
Kishida has been described as a “moderate,” “the establishment’s choice,” or “Mr. Status Quo” by the foreign media. The LDP, on the other contrary, is a right-wing party that went even farther to the right under Shinzo Abe’s eight-year tenure as Prime Minister, which ended in 2020 due to health issues.
Kishida, who served as Abe’s foreign minister from 2012 to 2017, is closely associated with Abe’s militaristic buildup and more confrontational posture against China, which was backed by US President Obama as part of his “pivot to Asia.” The Abe administration weakened the Japanese constitution’s so-called Article 9, which prohibits the country from establishing military troops and rejects war as a sovereign right. It rushed laws through in 2015 allowing for “collective self-defense,” i.e., participation in conflicts with the US and its allies.
Successive Japanese governments have pretended to support Article 9 by stating that the country’s military forces are solely for self-defense and are only armed with defensive weaponry. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Kishida pushed for the Japanese military to be expanded to include missiles capable of striking prospective adversaries such as China and North Korea.
Kishida supports the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a quasi-military alliance of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia, which held its first face-to-face leaders’ meeting last week in Washington. His comments to the Wall Street Journal echoed the Biden administration’s propaganda that Asia is “the front line of the clash between authoritarianism and democracy,” despite the fact that all four governments are trampling on democratic rights and norms.