• Kyodo

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Fumio Kishida, the new leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, will take office as prime minister on Monday and form his Cabinet, tasked with keeping COVID-19 under control while reviving a battered economy.

The former foreign minister will also be looking to bolster cooperation with the United States to counter China’s rising assertiveness and military buildup and address the recent resumption of ballistic missile tests by North Korea.

Kishida, 64, is all but guaranteed to be elected as prime minister when an extraordinary Diet session convenes Monday since the LDP-led ruling coalition controls both chambers.

The new prime minister’s first major test will be a general election in November in which he will need to defy his image as a moderate consensus builder who struggles to excite voters.

Signaling a break from the “neoliberal policies” the government has pursued over the past two decades, Kishida has promised to increase middle-class incomes and reduce wealth disparity.

An economic package worth “tens of trillions of yen” is in the works to help people and businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, he has said.

Kishida’s rise to prime minister comes after his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, last month announced his resignation after just a year in office amid criticism over his COVID-19 response.

With around 60% of Japan’s population fully vaccinated and infections in decline, Kishida will be responsible for steering the gradual lifting of restrictions on social and business activity and opening the border to foreign travelers.

Like Suga and Shinzo Abe before him, Kishida asserts Japan will work toward realizing a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” a not-so-subtle jab at Beijing’s expansionary moves in the South and East China seas and reflecting concerns over tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

When Kishida forms his Cabinet on Monday, he is expected to retain Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, 65, while naming former education minister Hirokazu Matsuno, 59, as chief Cabinet secretary.

Often called the lynchpin of an administration, the role of chief Cabinet secretary entails holding news conferences twice a day as the government’s top spokesman and coordinating policy between various ministries and agencies.

The post of finance minister is set to change hands for the first time in eight years and 10 months, with former Environment Minister Shunichi Suzuki, 68, to replace his brother-in-law and LDP heavyweight Taro Aso.

Kishida plans to retain education minister Koichi Hagiuda, 58, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa, 68, and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, 62, in the Cabinet and is assessing which portfolios he will give them, according to people familiar with the plan.

He also plans to create a new ministerial post for economic security in a veiled counter to alleged technology theft by China.

It was not immediately known who will take up the post, but the new minister is expected to craft a national strategy designed to end the drain of intellectual property from Japan.

In the LDP’s new executive lineup, Kishida appointed former economic and fiscal policy minister Akira Amari, 72, as secretary general and Sanae Takaichi, 60, one of his rivals in the LDP leadership race and a hard-line conservative, as policy chief.

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