How Kishida is inching Japan towards a more China-friendly stance

scmp.com -- Jan 20
Fumio Kishida, Japan’s new prime minister, may become the nation’s first leader in the post-Cold-War era to not have visited Washington in the first 10 months of his term, without a specific reason.

The only exceptions are Tsutomu Hada, who spent only 64 days as leader in 1994, and Emperor Hirohito, who spent just five days in the United States during his reign.

Japan’s new Diet session, which began on January 17, will last until June 15. After that, Kishida must fight in the Upper House election, held between June 25 and July 25. His schedule is tight, and Covid-19, including the Omicron variant, is again spreading.

Kishida wants to avoid the fate of his predecessor Yoshihide Suga, who took time off during last year’s Diet to visit Washington while coronavirus cases were surging, leading to a decline in his approval ratings and ultimately his resignation on September 3.

One of Kishida’s election campaign pledges was to push for distribution of wealth among all Japanese people, which means breaking with Abenomics. At the same time, he promised to focus on achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 – a Japanese Green Deal.

The world’s third-largest economy must increase its use of sustainable energy from 18 per cent in 2019 to more than 70 per cent by 2050. As a result, Japan will need to import more graphite, rare earth metals, copper, nickel, zinc and lithium to boost its sustainable energy mix.

China currently produces more than 60 per cent of the global output of graphite, 60 per cent of rare earths and 30 per cent of zinc. It also dominates the refining and processing market of all six critical minerals, according to the International Energy Agency.

Therefore, Japan may find itself leaning towards trade with China, something Japan’s Federation of Economic Organizations and many other Japanese companies support.