As Japan’s new PM, Kishida will need to address its economic woes and inequalities
Mr. Kishida’s most immediate big task is leading the party to the parliamentary elections within weeks. With the COVID situation easing, the LDP appears to be confident of victory under the new leadership. But winning elections would only be the first of a host of key challenges awaiting Mr. Kishida. He needs to come up with a programme to lift the world’s third largest economy out of its sluggishness. Even when the U.S. and China had surged back to growth after COVID lockdowns, Japan’s economy continued to falter under the long national emergency declared to fight the virus. Despite the LDP’s conservative past, Mr. Kishida had taken a centre-left position on the economy during the campaign. He promised increased spending to revive the economy and asked corporations to distribute more of their profits to middle-class workers. What is to be seen is whether these were instances of mere election-time rhetoric or if Mr. Kishida would turn them into policies to address Japan’s economic woes and widening inequality. A tougher challenge would be in the realm of foreign policy. After announcing the AUKUS alliance with the U.K. and Australia, under which Australia would be supplied nuclear submarines, the U.S. has made it clear that the Indo-Pacific is the new theatre of great power rivalry. Japan, an American ally in the Pacific with deep economic ties with China, would find it difficult to sit on the fence for long. Mr. Kishida, who called Taiwan “a frontline in the struggle by democracies against authoritarianism” and supported building Japan’s missile-strike capability, has already indicated which direction he would be taking on China. If he walks the talk, tensions are going to rise in East Asia.
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