TOKYO (AP) — In his first policy speech Friday, Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida promised to strengthen pandemic management and health care in case of another coronavirus resurgence, and turn around the battered economy while bolstering the country’s defenses against threats from China and North Korea.
Tasked with a crucial mission of rallying public support ahead of national elections expected on Oct. 31, Kishida promised to pursue politics of “trust and empathy.”
He was elected by parliament and sworn in Monday as Japan’s 100th prime minister, succeeding Yoshihide Suga who left after only a year in office. Suga’s perceived high-handed approach to virus measures and holding the Olympics despite rising cases angered the public and hurt the ruling Liberal Democrats.
“I will devote my body and soul to overcome the national crisis together with the people to pioneer the new era so that we can pass a bountiful Japan to the next generation,” said Kishida.
He promised to be more attentive to public concerns and needs, and prepare virus measures based on “a worst case scenario.” That includes taking advantage of a drop in infections to improve crisis management before the weather turns cold, approving COVID-19 treatment pills by the end of December and digitalize vaccine certificates for use at home as Japan gradually tries to expand social and economic activity, Kishida said.
A former moderate who recently turned hawk on security issues, he said Japan should also increase preparedness for growing regional threats.
He said the security environment has become more severe, and that he would revise Japan’s national security and defense strategy to bolster missile defense capability and naval defense.
“I’m determined to defend our land, territorial seas and air space, and the people’s lives and assets, no matter what,” Kishida said.
Japan-U.S. alliance remains as the “lynchpin” of diplomatic and security policies, he said, and vowed to further elevate the partnership, which “also serves the foundation of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and the entire world.”
Kishida said “establishing a stable relationship with China is important not only for the two countries but also for the region and the international community.” Still, Japan will “say what needs to be said” against China’s unilateral and coercive activity in the region, while cooperating with other like-minded democracies.
China has become bolder in pursuing its territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea, where it constructed several man-made islands and turned them into military installations, as well as around the Japanese-controlled East China Sea island of Senkaku, which China also claims. Beijing also has escalated its military activities around self-ruled Taiwan, which it views as part of its territory.
Later Friday, Kishida held telephone talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and brought up “various outstanding issues between the two countries,” Japan’s Foreign Ministry said. It said the two leaders agreed to cooperate.
Kishida proposed building a “constructive and stable relationship” as Japan and China mark 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties. He and Xi agreed to promote economic and people’s exchanges, the ministry said.
In another phone call Friday, Kishida agreed with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to strengthen defense cooperation, and as part of the Quad security alliance that also includes the United States and Australia, to promote a vision of the “free and open Indo-Pacific” with other democracies as a counterbalance to China. Kishida had held talks with U.S. and Australian leaders earlier this week.
Kishida and Modi together opposed any “unilateral attempts to change the status quo and economic coercion” and agreed to step up Japan-India partnerships in defense and other areas.
North Korea’s missile and nuclear development cannot be tolerated, but Japan seeks to normalize diplomatic ties with Pyongyang by resolving the “unfortunate (wartime) past,” and the decades-old issue of Japanese citizens abducted to the North, Kishida said in his address.
He repeated that he is ready to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un toward making a breakthrough.
Kishida repeated his policy goals made during the recent governing party leadership race, and pledged to achieve “a positive cycle of growth and distribution” in a society that balances daily lives and the danger of the coronavirus.
He said he seeks to promote growth by investment into cutting-edge research and development and promoting digitalization to modernize bureaucracy, services and industries, while encouraging companies to hike wages. He also wants to step up government support for education and living costs. Many experts, however, are skeptical if income raise could be possible.
Kishida said he hopes to close divisions caused by the pandemic that has worsened gaps between the rich and the poor.