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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday vowed to transform the Japanese economy by implementing a “new model of capitalism” — identifying growth and the distribution of wealth as “mutually necessary” — while also promising to expand the middle class.

In his first speech to the national legislature after assuming the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday, the nation’s 100th prime minister said he will continue to push for Japan to emerge from deflation and identified the “three arrows” from economic plans developed under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — aggressive monetary policy, fiscal consolidation and growth strategy — as his administration’s overall macroeconomic policy management.

He also promised massive investments in science and technology and attempted to engage with the public by sharing personal anecdotes and reflections on the pandemic.

During the roughly 40-minute speech in the lower chamber of the Diet, opposition lawmakers relentlessly jeered the new leader to the point where, at times, the audience struggled to hear Kishida. Opposition lawmakers also hissed when Kishida stressed the importance of dialogue, likely due to the prime minister’s unwillingness to hold a budget committee meeting, where they would be given an opportunity to grill him and his Cabinet members in a quasi-debate. The opposition has also criticized his proposal to establish a committee to discuss economic policies, calling it “too broad.”

Kishida, however, maintained his composure and rattled off his pre-written speech in a loud voice, although toward the end his voice sounded hollow and he misread a word. The ruling party lawmakers screamed in approval and applauded when he argued for a ban on nuclear weapons.

Here are some of the policy areas that Kishida touched on in the speech:

Economy

Despite his allusions to the Abenomics policy mix, Kishida noted that the neoliberal policies that Japan has embraced have created a division between the rich and the poor. The world, he noted, is shifting toward protecting the middle class and embracing massive spending both by governments and the private sector in preparation for crises such as climate change.

“What’s important is creating a positive cycle of growth and distribution,” Kishida said. “We’ll implement various policies to achieve both.”

Kishida has called for founding a roughly ¥10-trillion fund to bolster research at universities as well as massive investments to develop cutting-edge technology in areas such as the digital sphere, the environment, artificial intelligence and space exploration. In addition, Kishida promised to modernize digital infrastructure in rural areas and facilitate the installation of 5G networks.

At the same time, Kishida pushed for tax benefits for companies that raise wages, further support for education and housing costs for families with young children and efforts to increase wages for nurses and nursing care and child care workers. A new council dedicated to hammering out the specifics of these plans will be created, but the prime minister did not provide specifics on funding for these programs.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a news conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo on Monday. | BLOOMBERG
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a news conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Monday. | BLOOMBERG

During the speech, Kishida stressed the importance of listening to people’s opinions and soliciting trust and sympathy — the two key elements an aide described as critical for the leader — in order to move forward with his agenda. He touched on the divide brought on by economic inequalities, which he said cast a spotlight on the importance of unity among family members and friends. To weather the crisis, he said, “it’s time to call on the power of unity.”

“In order to achieve this, I value sincere dialogue with the people,” Kishida said. “All Cabinet ministers, including myself, will conduct a series of discussions with various people, and on top of that I will instruct Cabinet ministers to thoroughly check whether our governance meets the expectations of the people.”

COVID-19

Regarding the coronavirus response, Kishida said the government will maximize its authority to ensure the country has enough medical workers and provide necessary measures for patients recovering at home. He emphasized the need to plan for worst-case scenarios, which was perhaps a veiled criticism of former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who was accused of painting a rosy picture of the situation and shifting his focus toward economic recovery and away from public health too quickly.

With COVID-19 booster shots in mind, Kishida said the government will lay the groundwork for another round of vaccinations.

Along with expanding free testing that does not require a reservation, his administration wants to take advantage of electronic vaccination certificates and make oral coronavirus medicine available by the end of this year. Kishida also said he wants to “fundamentally reinforce” crisis management by developing domestic vaccines and medicine against COVID-19 and revise legislation to give authorities legal tools to reduce foot traffic, procure medical resources and reinforce chain-of-command roles. The administration will also examine previous administrations’ shortcomings in crisis management.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers his first policy speech in the Lower House in Tokyo on Friday. | AFP-JIJI
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers his first policy speech in the Lower House in Tokyo on Friday. | AFP-JIJI

Diplomacy

On diplomacy and national defense, Kishida, like his predecessors, vowed to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance and work with allies and “like-minded” countries to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific. He also brought up cooperation with the U.S., Australia and India, collectively known as “the Quad,” to achieve the objective.

On top of that, Kishida said his administration will address human rights issues and increase Japan’s international presence in solving issues such as climate change and nuclear nonproliferation.

“I, too, will take up the torch of nuclear abolition, which has been attempted many times by the world’s great leaders, and do the best of my abilities to achieve ‘a world without nuclear weapons,’” said Kishida, who hails from a political family in Hiroshima Prefecture. “I believe the cardinal point of defense and national security is trust.”

To address increasing security concerns, Kishda pledged to update the national security strategy, the National Defense Program Guidelines and medium-term defense program. He also discussed enhancing missile defense and maritime security capabilities as well as economic security.

Kishida largely inherited Suga’s course of action in dealing with neighboring countries. He mentioned China, but was careful not to antagonize the country, emphasizing that a stable bilateral relationship is important for the region and the world. He noted the need to stand up to China on certain matters while continuing dialogue with the second-largest economy.

A television camera shows Fumio Kishida during a Lower House plenary session in Tokyo on Monday. | AFP-JIJI
A television camera shows Fumio Kishida during a Lower House plenary session in Tokyo on Monday. | AFP-JIJI

Kishida described South Korea as “an important neighboring country” and demanded the country “take appropriate measures based on our coherent position to restore a healthy relationship.” Calling North Korea’s missile and nuclear development “absolutely unacceptable,” Kishida said he was determined to resolve those issues and repatriate Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and ’80s.

He used similar language as Suga on Russian-controlled islands off Hokkaido, vowing not to put the issue on the backburner and showed his commitment toward developing Japan-Russian relations, including the conclusion of a peace treaty, by building mutual trust between top leaders.

General election

The speech comes at a crucial moment for his fledgling administration and in the middle of an extremely tight political schedule. Kishida will have just days to outline his administration’s policy goals before jumping into a frenzied general election period.

With the current Lower House members’ terms set to expire on Oct. 21, Kishida announced Monday he would dissolve the Lower House on Oct. 14 and that an election would be held Oct. 31. To deflect criticism by the opposition for a lack of accountability, Kishida will answer questions from party representatives in both Diet chambers next week.

It had been presumed that Kishida would wait until either Nov. 7 or Nov. 14 to hold an election, but it is believed the new prime minister wanted to get it out of the way as soon as possible and while his approval ratings are at a high level. Given the presence of fragmented opposition parties with low approval ratings, there is a high probability that the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito coalition will keep its majority.

However, the Kishida administration is also believed to be worried about constituents’ distrust of the LDP.

Fumio Kishida after casting his ballot to elect a new prime minister on Monday | AFP-JIJI
Fumio Kishida after casting his ballot to elect a new prime minister on Monday | AFP-JIJI

Suga’s explanations on his administration’s coronavirus policies frustrated many voters — anger that has shown up in opinion polls — and the Kishida Cabinet’s initial approval ratings, ranging in percentage from the upper 40s to the upper 50s, were not as high as some LDP lawmakers had hoped it would be.

Kishida beat the public’s No. 1 choice, Taro Kono, among others in the party’s leadership election last week.

Despite Kono’s high-profile presence in the media and online, his liberal stance on social issues and controversial comments on pension reform and the relationship between LDP lawmakers and Cabinet officials in policymaking pushed many lawmakers, particularly those who belong to the conservative and hawkish wing of the party, away from Kono.

In an apparent bid to raise his profile and gain popularity with the public, Kishida told personal anecdotes in different parts of his speech Friday, underscoring his eagerness to listen and implement policies that directly address public concerns.

He shared content from notes he had been keeping about people feeling worried amid the pandemic, such as a dry cleaner who struggled to stay in business as the number of customers dropped significantly due to COVID-19. Kishida also shared a proverb ー “If you want to get ahead early, go forward by yourself; If you want to go far, go forward with everyone.” ー to underscore the importance of unity in reducing economic and regional inequalities and “carve out a new era.”

“Through every dark night, there’s a bright day,” he said. “By working with each and every one of you, we’ll take a step forward for tomorrow.”

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