Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi is making a name for himself as a potential successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as senior government members laud his diplomacy skills.
The biggest challenge facing his potential bid to take on the top job may be the faction he helps lead in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which may become divided over its stance in the leadership race.
Motegi met with his Singaporean counterpart, Vivian Balakrishnan, on Thursday and agreed to resume cross-border travel between the two nations for business purposes. After the meeting, Motegi spoke to reporters online about the importance of face-to-face diplomacy, which he resumed after being limited to virtual meetings amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“There were limits to movement, but we were able to get results,” he said.
Motegi has earned praise for his negotiation and policy execution skills.
As economic revitalization minister, he faced off against U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last year in talks for a new bilateral trade deal. After becoming foreign minister, he worked to help Japanese seeking to return to the country amid the virus crisis and led talks to ease entry restrictions.
Abe himself has floated Motegi as a potential successor for LDP president and thus prime minister, all other things remaining the same.
Motegi has so far avoided explicitly commenting on a potential bid to succeed Abe, saying that he “wants to focus on the job of foreign minister.”
But one Foreign Ministry source said that Motegi’s personality has “softened up” since he first took on the top diplomat role, growing out of his oft-criticized tendency to demand too much from others, a move that could be seen as a prelude for making a run for LDP president.
Motegi has also started to build bridges with other factions within the LDP. On July 31, he dined with Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso at a restaurant in Tokyo. According to party sources, Aso, the head of his own faction, has taken a liking to the idea of Motegi being a potential successor to the prime minister.
Motegi’s largest obstacle to a successful run for LDP president may be the Takeshita faction, for which he serves as acting chief. The faction, headed by former LDP General Council Chairman Wataru Takeshita, split during the 2018 LDP presidential election after Motegi led efforts to back Abe, while Mikio Aoki, former boss of the party’s members in the House of Councilors, backed Abe’s opponent, former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba.
According to a senior Upper House lawmaker from the party, hard feelings remain between Aoki, who still wields great influence in the Takeshita faction, and Motegi.
Motegi is not the only member of the Takeshita faction regarded as a potential party leader. Health minister Katsunobu Kato and scandal-hit former trade minister Yuko Obuchi are also viewed as potential successors.
“If Motegi runs in the presidential election, the faction would definitely be split,” a senior official of the Takeshita faction said.
“In order to change his relationship with Aoki, Motegi himself must bow his head and ask for understanding,” a middle-ranking faction member close to Motegi said.
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