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As expected by pundits in Tokyo, the initial approval rating of Japan’s new administration was not as high as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida might have hoped for. “I am aware of the numbers,” Kishida said. “I understand that there is a wide range among opinion polls.”

The results of the surveys conducted by Japan’s news media vary. Kyodo News and the Nikkei, for example, reported approval ratings of 55.7% and 59%, while the liberal Asahi Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun had 45% and 49%, respectively. The disapproval ratings were 20%-27%, except for the Mainichi with a disapproval rating of 40%.

Low expectations

Those approval ratings are reportedly among the lowest among the first round of opinion polls conducted immediately after the inauguration of a new Cabinet in Japan. According to the Nikkei, the top three initial approval ratings of a new prime minister were 75% for Yukio Hatoyama in 2009, 74% for Yoshihide Suga in 2020 and 71% for Shinzo Abe in 2006.

That said, as history shows, the level of approval ratings does not necessarily reflect the level of governing ability and survivability of a prime minister. Prime Ministers Yasuhiro Nakasone and Keizo Obuchi, who had started with low approval ratings, survived various political crises during their premierships.

Kishida’s approval ratings seem to reflect the current mood of the nation’s pandemic-frustrated public. Some of Japan’s major daily newspapers were more critical than would be expected. Following are some of the headlines of their editorials on Oct. 5.

  • ‘Kishida’s tolerant politics’ to be tested (Asahi)
  • Will Kishida’s Cabinet be able to change policy? (Mainichi)
  • New administration must show path to Japan’s revival (Nikkei)
  • Facing a mountain of difficult problems with all-out effort (Yomiuri)
  • The ability to execute is the key to success, make clear the promises made in the presidential election (Sankei)

Foreign policy

Compared to his domestic policies, the editorials seem to be more supportive of Kishida’s foreign policy in general. Even the Asahi stated: “With the reappointment of Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, the new Cabinet will be able to take a seamless approach to foreign and security policy.”

That said, the editorials are sharply divided on defense and China. The Yomuiri, for example, stressed that the “revision of the security strategy is an urgent task” and, on the issue of “a counterattack capability against missile attacks,” adding that Kishida should “persuade Komeito to formulate a new policy as soon as possible.”

The Sankei echoed this line, stating that “Protecting the Japanese people from the threats posed by China and North Korea cannot be neglected even for a day” and “With China in mind, it is appropriate to appoint a new Minister of State for Economic Security Affairs.”

The Asahi, for its part, was highly critical. Its editorial asserted “with the establishment of a new minister in charge of formulating the Economic Security Promotion Act, which is aimed at China, and the appointment of Sanae Takaichi as chair of the Policy Research Council, an advocate of increasing defense spending and possessing the capability to attack enemy bases, there is a possibility that Tokyo’s posture toward China will become ‘more about confrontation than dialogue.’”

Economic security

For sure one of the key features of Kishida’s foreign policy will be the promotion of economic security. The birthplace of this policy was the Strategic Headquarters on the Creation of a New International Order established by Kishida when he was chair of the LDP’s Policy Research Council.

A new law in relation to this is expected to be enacted in the ordinary Diet session next year. The Strategic Headquarters’ interim report states that the economic security policy is for “ensuring the independence, survival and prosperity of Japan from an economic perspective” and “securing strategic autonomy” as well as “maintaining, strengthening and acquiring strategic indispensability.”

The five key industries listed in the interim report on economic security were very comprehensive, ranging from energy, information and telecommunications, transportation and maritime logistics, finance, and to medicine, including the following key features.

  • Stable and efficient supply of electricity; strengthening cybersecurity measures for electric power companies
  • Relocation of Internet relay points; strengthening of cybersecurity measures of telecommunications carriers
  • Strengthening infrastructure such as railroads, airports and port facilities; strengthen cybersecurity measures for private companies that operate critical infrastructure
  • Business continuity plan for financial institutions in times of crisis, backup center; strengthen cybersecurity measures for financial institutions
  • Strengthen research and development capacity for vaccines and therapeutic agents; ensure stable supply of pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, personal protective equipment

These are just examples, and the entire law may cover much more relevant issues and areas.

No matter how critical some news media may be, Kishida seems determined to implement this new economic security policy and strengthen Japan’s resilience towards China’s quiet but existential offensive in the political, economic, military and information/cultural realms.

Kuni Miyake is president of the Foreign Policy Institute and research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies. A former career diplomat, Miyake also serves as a special adviser to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Japanese government.

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