Former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, one of the top contenders in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership race, said Wednesday that mitigating income gaps that are widening amid the COVID-19 pandemic would be one of his top priorities if he becomes party president and therefore prime minister.

Since the early 2000s, Japan has embraced the deregulation and market-oriented policies associated with the neoliberal philosophy, a shift that was continued under the Abenomics agenda of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the 2010s. That approach boosted Japan’s economy but widened gaps, and Kishida's call for a move away from neoliberalism seeks to address this and ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth.

“There were things that didn’t really work” by just letting free market competition take its course, with amplified income inequality among the failures, he said during a news conference to unveil his economic policies. “Fruits of growth need to be distributed ... otherwise divisions in society will deepen.”