In early October, it will be exactly two years since Fumio Kishida became head of the government of Japan. An experienced politician, he had spent almost four years as head of the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Shinzō Abe, one of the country’s most prominent statesmen of the entire post-war period.
It should be noted that in terms of “longevity” at the highest state post, Kishida is still far away from his former boss (who tragically died a year ago). But even a two-year term of government leadership in the face of Japanese political realities can be defined as “quite a lot.” In the second half of the 2000s, several prime ministers of the country succeeded each other at one-year intervals. At the time, Washington officials said they did not have time to learn the face of each new leader of their major Asian ally.
But even within these two years, Japan’s current Prime Minister has already reformatted his government twice (and radically). The first time it happened was in August 2022, i.e. even before the expiration of Fumio Kishida’s first year in office. On September 14 this year, the same thing happened for the second time.
In both cases, the motives for such decisive steps by the incumbent Prime Minister contained both domestic and foreign policy components. But if a year ago, the main role in such a step was played by some sharply aggravated domestic factor, today Fumio Kishida engaged in a “radical shake-up” of the personal composition of his government due to the influence of the sharply aggravated foreign policy situation as well. Therefore, Japanese and foreign commentators pay special attention to the new diplomatic and defense chiefs in the new government of Japan.
Still, a number of domestic factors undoubtedly remain important, one of the main ones being the next parliamentary elections. Their “calendar” deadline is October 2025, but throughout almost the whole of this year there have been periodic speculations about the possibility of the Prime Minister exercising the right to dissolve Parliament early with an immediate snap general election.
This is a fairly common political technique in Japan, which is used for various purposes. In particular, at the end of 2012, the Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled almost the entire post-war period, returned Shinzō Abe to the post of Prime Minister through a similar procedure (initiated, however, by political opponents) for a second time, i.e. after a one-year period in 2006-2007. He then held the post for almost eight years. Fumio Kishida, on the other hand, is credited with the intention (however, not explicitly confirmed publicly) to hold early elections in order to gain the support of the country’s population for difficult and mostly unpopular decisions.
In recent months, the government has been faced with a choice in financially securing solutions to two key (but directly opposite in purpose) issues. One of them is caused by the implementation of the just adopted new version of the National Security Strategy for the next 10 years. Its most important element will be the doubling over the next five years of defense spending, which has remained below the level of one per cent of national GDP (almost the lowest in the world) for the entire post-war period.
Another fundamental issue, often labelled “a national catastrophe in the making,” is the continuing decline in the birth rate.
Closely related to this latter problem is the need for Japan (as an integral element of the “Collective West”) to realize all the madness provoked by the process of spreading a “new (gender) normal” in the world, launched a few years ago. It started, it should be recalled, with the relatively harmless (though idiotic in content) #Metoo movement. One of the most important components of this process is the quota-coercive (by the way, directly contradicting democratic procedures) “gender equalization” of the senior staff of everything and anything. That is, both state institutions and agencies, as well as private companies (seemingly autonomous from the latter).
Based on the results of the discussed reformatting of Japan’s Cabinet of Ministers, Fumio Kishida can now report to his G7 colleagues that everything now looks more or less OK in his “household” in this respect. Since the new government, which includes 19 ministers, features as many as five women. Among them is the new head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is becoming increasingly important in today’s Japan.
Commenting on the results of all these events, Fumio Kishida expressed the hope that a certain (not specified, however) “gender peculiarity” of women in the new Cabinet of Ministers will be beneficial to the process of leading the country. This provoked rather caustic comments in the media. In doing so, for some reason he pointed only to Shinako Tsuchiya, the new head of the Ministry of Reconstruction. Apparently, as a response to this remark, Tsuchiya stated that she had not felt any gender peculiarities in her official practice before, and that she simply intends to be conscientiously engaged in solving issues in the sphere of activity entrusted by the Prime Minister.
As for Yōko Kamikawa, who became head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was previously in charge of the Ministry of Justice, she is responsible for the most important sphere of activity due to the dramatic increase in Japan’s current statehood of the importance of the factor of the country’s return (after its defeat in World War II) to the table of the “Great World Game” as one of its significant participants. In a significant way, the Office of Kamikawa will have to solve the issue of finding an optimal strategy for Japan’s behavior in this relatively new capacity in the entire post-war period.
However, the very definition of “optimal” in all spheres of activity is conditional, i.e., it always requires (usually verbose) explanations. In this case, it should be noted that the content of the “optimality” of the foreign policy of any state is determined by its own leadership, which is unlikely to take into account some “external” advice (let alone reproaches) on this topic.
Therefore, it is useless to strain propaganda vocal cords on the topic of “American occupation” of present-day Japan (as well as Germany). Especially since such clichés have long since fallen short of the realities, as it is primarily Tokyo itself that remains interested in such an “occupation” (and for the foreseeable future). And transparent hints of the possibility of its termination, as a means of pressure on the Japanese leadership in some important issues for Washington (primarily regarding Japan’s position on the conflict in Ukraine, as well as the constantly negative balance of bilateral trade for the US), have already been sent to Tokyo by the “occupier” itself more than once. This started, perhaps, from the time of Barack Obama’s presidency.
This mainly explains the complete continuity in the country’s foreign policy course, which was recorded by the new head of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in her first foreign contact. This was a ten-minute telephone conversation between Yōko Kamikawa and her American counterpart Antony Blinken in the early morning of September 14. Immediately afterwards, Yoshimasa Hayashi, that is, Kamikawa’s predecessor, spoke to the US Secretary of State for the same ten minutes (apparently from the same office and on the same phone).
It follows from the brief reports published on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan about the content of the contacts of the new and previous heads of this department with their American counterpart that no significant innovations are expected to appear in Tokyo’s foreign policy. It is unlikely that any such innovations will be outlined during Yōko Kamikawa’s forthcoming public debut, which will be her speech at the upcoming regular session of the UN General Assembly.
The updated National Security Strategy, which has already been adopted, will now be implemented by Minoru Kihara, formerly the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor, who now heads Ministry of Defense. So far, commentators have paid particular attention to his (allegedly) “pro-Taiwan” preferences. This, it should be noted, is by no means a coincidence in the Japanese establishment. The same, for example, was attributed to the late Shinzō Abe, as well as to his younger brother Nobuo Kishi, who served as Minister of Defense from September 2020 to August 2022.
In this case, it is much more important that Minoru Kihara’s characterization is fully in line with the increasingly noticeable trend towards a multifaceted strengthening of Japan’s presence in the Taiwan issue (long noted in the NEO). This prevents the author from continuing to adhere even to the very cautiously expressed earlier optimism regarding the prospects for the development of Japan-China relations. And, consequently, also in a significant way regarding the situation in the Indo-Pacific region as a whole.
Finally, it should be noted that the level of support for the “reformatted” cabinet of Fumio Kishida is unprecedentedly low in recent years (and for several Japanese governments) (around 25%). It was recorded by Mainichi Shimbun based on the results of a poll conducted on September 16-17, i.e., two or three days after the event under discussion.
Such a picture of public sentiment must have once again plunged the incumbent Prime Minister into difficult reflections on the topic of holding early elections. Today, such a decision would look like a coin flipping with the very possible prospect of a serious loss. As, incidentally, it happened in late 2012 with the then opponents of the now ruling LDP.
So, it is worth watching how the above-mentioned reflections will be finalized.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.