National / Politics

Abe vows to lead fight against protectionism at LDP pre-election rally

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed Monday to “lead the world” in countering the recent rise in protectionism and trade wars if he wins re-election in his ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership contest later this month.

Abe was addressing a throng of LDP lawmakers gathered at a Tokyo hotel to celebrate the establishment of his campaign office in the lead-up to Friday’s kickoff of official campaigning for the key Sept. 20 election.

As the world witnesses what he called a “worrying emergence of protectionism” that has led to the imposition of retaliatory tariffs by some of the world’s largest economies, Japan “must not be an introvert,” Abe said.

“In the face of such a historic turning point, I want Japan to lead the world toward setting forth rules that will make people all over the globe happier and richer,” Abe said, emphasizing roles Japan has played in putting together international frameworks, such as the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement hammered out after the United States’ withdrew from the pact.

Tit-for-tat tariffs, he said, “produce nothing. They will only bring unhappiness to people in any country.”

Abe’s portrayal of himself as a reliable, influential global leader was the biggest selling point repeated by his aides at Monday’s event. Many of them also talked up the extent to which they claim he has successfully elevated Japan’s global presence.

“The unmistakable fact is it’s during these past six years of the LDP’s rule that Japan has become a country that lots of countries can depend on, and I want rank-and-file members of the LDP to think carefully whether replacing this ‘face’ of Japan will really work in favor of our national interests,” Finance Minister Taro Aso said, adding that Abe’s record in national elections had stabilized his administration and won Japan global respect.

Aso’s view was echoed by veteran lawmaker Akira Amari, director-general of Abe’s campaign office.

“When Group of Seven leaders struggle to reach an agreement, they end up saying the same thing: ‘What does Shinzo think?'” claimed Amari, who formerly served as economic revitalization minister under Abe.

“It is even said that the G7 can’t be held together without Prime Minister Abe. I don’t think Japan was ever so influential as it is today.”

In the leadership race, Abe faces only one challenger, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who is fighting an uphill battle hampered by his weak influence in the party. A victory would effectively extend Abe’s prime ministership by another three years.

In a survey Saturday and Sunday by the daily Mainichi Shimbun, Abe was said to be favored by 32 percent, barely beating Ishiba, who was preferred by 29 percent.

The same poll, however, underlined Abe’s staunch popularity among LDP supporters, with 65 percent naming Abe the most desirable candidate for president, versus 18 percent who voiced support for Ishiba.

But as far as swing voters are concerned, 42 percent said they back neither Abe nor Ishiba, outnumbering the 32 percent who support Ishiba and the 19 percent who back Abe, reflecting tepid public interest in the contest.