Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed eagerness Wednesday to hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if Suga becomes prime minister, in a bid to resolve abductions of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang.

“I want to make a breakthrough” in the abduction issue by meeting Kim without preconditions, Suga told a news conference held to declare his bid for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s presidency.

The LDP is scheduled to hold a vote on Sept. 14 to choose a successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who last week announced his resignation for health reasons.

Suga also showed his intent to inherit Abe’s policy on resolving a territorial row between Tokyo and Moscow over Russian-controlled islands north of Japan, referred to as the Northern Territories.

Abe sought to resolve the dispute based on the 1956 Japan-Soviet joint declaration, which calls for the handover of two of the four disputed islands — Shikotan and the Habomai islets — to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty to formally end World War II hostilities.

In addition, Suga defended the government’s plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture.

The government intends to relocate the Futenma base, located in a densely populated area in Ginowan, to the Henoko coastal area in Nago, but the Okinawa Prefectural Government has been calling for the cancellation of the plan.

“We can realize the removal of danger by transferring it to Henoko,” Suga said.

Suga also said, the next administration “has to resolve” issues related to treated radioactive water from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s nuclear plant, which suffered a triple meltdown following the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami in March 2011.

Meanwhile, Suga also expressed eagerness to have mobile phone fees lowered further if he becomes the country’s next prime minister.

“I want to make thorough steps to create a system that will spur industry competition,” Suga said during the same news conference.

Suga also suggested willingness to promote realignment of regional banks, saying that there were “too many” regional banks in the country.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga arrives for a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday to formally announce his bid to run in the Liberal Democratic Party's leadership election. | BLOOMBERG
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga arrives for a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday to formally announce his bid to run in the Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership election. | BLOOMBERG

By presenting the policies on mobile phone fees and regional banks, Suga was apparently seeking to differentiate himself from Abe while maintaining the broader ideas of Abenomics, the signature economic policy mix of the outgoing prime minister, observers said.

Major mobile phone carriers and regional banks are paying close attention to Suga’s remarks as he is widely seen as a top contender to succeed Abe.

“The mobile market is an oligopoly of the three leading carriers, which hold a combined share of 90 percent and see their operating profitability stand as high as some 20 percent despite using the public radio waves (frequency band), a shared asset of the nation,” Suga said.

Suga, who was previously communications minister, has repeatedly called on the major mobile phone carriers — NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Corp. — to make further efforts to lower rates, saying that the nation’s telephone fees are high compared with those of other countries.

As for the regional banking industry, there have been smoldering calls for realignment, with as many as 102 regional banks, including second-tier regional banks, currently operating across Japan.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has weighed heavily on regional banks’ earnings, which had already been squeezed by population declines and prolonged low-interest rates in the country.

Suga, 71, the continuity candidate for the Abe administration, is seen to have the advantage in the forthcoming election, while Fumio Kishida, the LDP’s policy chief, and Shigeru Ishiba, former LDP secretary-general, apparently playing catch-up.

On Thursday, Suga met at a hotel with senior officials of five party factions that support his bid and nonaligned LDP lawmakers that also back him to discuss his strategy for the LDP leadership election.

He is also continuing his duties as chief Cabinet secretary, holding a regular press conference in the morning, in which he said that his view of opposing factional politics in his party has not changed at all. “There are two sides to factions,” Suga said. “If the negative side becomes too strong, there would be a need to watch out for it.”

Suga declined to comment on the possibility of the House of Representatives being dissolved for a snap election. “It’s an issue for the new Cabinet,” he said.

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