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Newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, accompanied by Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi (C) and Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki (L) attends Lower House's plenary session at the National Diet in Tokyo, 8 October 2021 (Photo: Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO).

Author: Andrew Oros, Wilson Center and Washington College

The ‘status quo candidate’, Fumio Kishida, in the four-way race to become Japan’s next leader was officially appointed as Japan’s 100th prime minister on 4 October, after besting three rivals in the battle for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) last month.

Kishida’s first cabinet brought in many new faces, but left in place the ministers in charge of foreign affairs and defence from the previous cabinet. The new government faces escalating foreign policy and ‘intermestic’ challenges — those that cross the barrier between international and domestic — in the coming year that cannot be addressed by perpetuating the status quo, despite the apparent desire among LDP insiders for continuity.

China’s military challenges to Japan and the region are escalating — including around the East and South China Seas and Taiwan, and in broader military competition over China’s growing nuclear arsenal, missile capabilities and new military technologies. In September, Kishida expressed ‘deep alarm‘ at Beijing’s aggressive behaviour on the diplomatic and economic fronts. But in his first press conference as Prime Minister on 4 October, he again largely reflected status quo talking points about how Japan must seek to maintain dialogue with China.

Beyond China, Japan also faces a region of mounting security challenges with the North Korea issue and growing military spending among many states raising fears of an arms race over missiles and other advanced weaponry. The new AUKUS agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States underscores the momentum building for more advanced weapons. Japan will be hard-pressed to keep up at its current rate of defence spending, which is far from the approach that prime minister-hopeful Sanae Takaichi proposed during the LDP …continue reading