Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Japan at the UN General Assembly

PM Kishida Defends Human Dignity at the UN
Or Does He?

By Takuya Nishimura, Former Editorial Writer for The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
You can find his blog, J Update here.
September 25, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point

To exercise Japan’s leadership in the international community, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida focused on “human dignity” in his speech at the General Debate of United Nations General Assembly on September 19th. Citing Japan’s non-permanent membership in UN Security Council and presidency in Group of Seven, Kishida proposed A World Caring for Human Dignity to “respond to the desperate desire for Peace and the pleas of vulnerable people seeking help.” So, what would Japan do for that?

Kishida insisted that Japan had led human-centered international cooperation, based on the concept of human security. In the UN Millennium Summit in 2000, then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori declared that Japan would put “human security” on the center of its diplomacy. Considering the tradition of Japan’s UN diplomacy, Kishida requested further efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals, which is highly popular in the business sector in Japan. “The key is to ‘invest in people,’ which is my pollical credo,” said Kishida.

However, does Kishida administration invest in its own people enough? Although he told that “Japan aims to reduce inequalities and overcome social divisions by promoting women’s participation,” his choice of no female State Minister or Parliamentary Vice-Minister earlier this month was criticized as the consequence of woman lawmakers’ shortage in Liberal Democratic Party. He is responsible for achieving more accesses of women to politics by increasing female lawmakers in LDP.

What Kishida emphasized the most in his speech was the nuclear issue. Calling nuclear disarmament his lifelong mission, Kishida touched on the significance of promoting Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and pledged ¥3 billion of contribution to newly establishment of “Japan Chair” at overseas research institutes and think tanks. In the backdrop of General Assembly, Kishida co-sponsored with the leaders of Australia and Philippines a commemorative high-level event on FMCT. “The concept of an FMCT was proposed 30 years ago. Hence, experts have engaged in numerous dialogues over its technical elements. Unfortunately, negotiations on an FMCT have still not begun, but we are in need of an FMCT than ever before,” told Kishida in his opening statement.

In spite of his eagerness to nuclear disarmament, Japan is well known as turning its back to Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which has already been signed by over 90 UN member countries. Considering his diligent effort for promoting FMCT this time, it is obvious that Kishida focuses more on FMCT than TPNW. What we need to see is the number of member countries. If Japan wants to outreach the countries called Global South, the easier way should be joining the treaty at least as an observer at first.

Denouncing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Kishida required reinforced UN. “Initiatives to limit the use of the veto, which exacerbates division and confrontation in the UN, will strengthen and restore confidence in the Security Council,” he said. While the appeal can be paralleled with what Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy demanded to the member countries in General Debate, the intention of Japan is always regarded as connected to its ambition to join the permanent members, whenever it refers to Security Council reform. It would be notable that Russia also hopes to expand the member counties to erode the Western power in the council.

“Facing severe situation of the world today, we need a common language for human beings to achieve an international community for cooperation,” Kishida said, gingerly reading a prepared statement at his press conference after his UN speech. Being the top leader of a nation with over twenty thousand of yearly suicides or pervasive discrimination against ethnical or sexual minorities, was he successful in resonating his words to the people in the world?

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Nothing New

Kishida Preserves His Administration

By Takuya Nishimura, Former Editorial Writer, The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
September 18, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point
You can find his blog, J Update here.

On September 13th, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his Cabinet for the second time since coming to power in October 2021. Although personnel changes are ordinarily made to tackle difficult issues, Kishida focused on the balance of power in his administration. He reappointed most key Cabinet ministers and leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Kishida must have thought that he had to preserve the LDP’s positions in the administration in order to garner their support in the presidential election next year.

The main point of the reshuffle was not about the Cabinet, but the LDP Board. The key structure of the board was maintained. Vice-President Taro Aso, Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi and Chairman of Policy Research Council Koichi Hagiuda from the Abe group were retained remained in the same positions. The new Chairman of the General Council Hiroshi Moriyama leads the smallest faction.

According to the news reports, Kishida once wanted to replace Motegi, who did not conceal his ambition to succeed him. But considering that his faction is only the fourth largest in the LDP, Kishida was afraid that the Motegi group could further distance itself from his administration, if Motegi left the board. Kishida finally decided to let Motegi stay in his current position.

To deter Motegi’s plan to run in the next presidential election, Kishida picked Yuko Obuchi, a daughter of late, former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, for one of the four pillars on the LDP Board, the Chair of Election Strategy Committee. It gives her a chance to sell herself as another possible candidate for president in the Motegi group. Obuchi has strong support from her father’s close colleagues: Keizo’s successor Yoshiro Mori, who still has a considerable influence in the Abe group, and Mikio Aoki, who had not been a supporter of Motegi in the Motegi group.

The Yomiuri Shimbun and other newspapers reported that Kishida considered bringing Hagiuda into the cabinet as Chief Cabinet Secretary, hoping for a closer relationship with the largest Abe group. Hagiuda has been criticized, however, for his close relationship with Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly the Unification Church, FFWPU). The relationship of FFWPU with a number of LDP lawmakers has caused low popularity of Kishida administration. Kishida and his staff finally gave up on the idea.

These decisions show that the main reason for the reshuffling and renewing LDP board members was to establish a firm basis of the administration to ensure victory in the presidential election next year. Kishida naming five women to ministerial positions, equaling the record of largest number of women in a cabinet, also reflects Kishida’s desire to increase public support for his reelection.

Some points in the reshuffling are hard to understand. Japan is the chair country of Group of Seven meeting later this fall, but Kishida chose to replace Yoshimasa Hayashi, the Minister for Foreign Affairs with Yoko Kamikawa. Kamikawa is known as the former Minister of Justice who signed death penalty orders for thirteen prisoners of Aum Shinrikyo in 2018. Both Hayashi and Kamikawa are affiliated with the Kishida group.

Since Kamikawa has little experience as a diplomat, Kishida said that he would lead diplomacy himself. Hayashi’s recent denouncement of Russian aggression in Ukraine and his remarks on the reconstruction of Ukraine might have presented a challenge to the prime minister.

If Kishida wants to raise his support, why didn’t he replace the ministers who faced public unpopularity? Minister in Charge of Economic Security Sanae Takaichi accused the Ministry of Internal Affair of fabricating her remarks in documents over impartiality in the Broadcasting Law. But no evidence supported the attack. It is obvious that she will be targeted by the opposition parties in the Diet discussion.

Elsewhere, the Minister for Digital Transformation, Taro Kono, has apologized publicly for several critical mistakes in registering people to the new healthcare system connected to My Number Card. Cabinet reshuffling was a good opportunity for a fresh restart for healthcare reform led by a new Minister for Digital Transformation, but Kishida missed it.

Blunt political considerations may explain why Takaichi and Kono survived the recent reshuffling. Both were contenders against Kishida in the 2021 LDP presidential election. Takaichi is one of the possible leaders in the conservative group, and Kono can be a candidate for the future prime minister in Aso group. Kishida possibly took the influence of the conservative and Aso groups into consideration.

Given the deference accorded two problematic ministers, it is ironic that Kishida replaced the Minister for Children Affairs and the Minister of Defense, both of whom are in charge of issues Kishida focuses on, in order to bring some element of newness to the cabinet.

Two meanings can be seen in picking Yoshitaka Shindo, an ultraconservative lawmaker whose grandfather was the supreme commander of Japan Imperial Army in the Battle of Iwo Jima and the head of a conservative group called 'League of Lawmakers Taking Action for Protecting Japan’s Territory.' One is a message to the conservative group in LDP that Kishida is taking good care of the conservative issues, including promoting constitutional amendment. But if Kishida is so serious about amending the Constitution, Shindo should stay in the LDP and manage the issue in the Diet. Another approach should be to separate Shindo from Motegi. Shindo has been a firm supporter of Motegi in his group. People will see how Motegi’s leadership in his group will be affected by the latest reshuffling.

In spite of all the above elements on the revived administration, Kishida claimed that his goal was not solely to preserve the political life of his administration. His focus was policy. Kishida said in his press conference on the 13th that he would focus on three issues: economy, society, and diplomacy and security.

While Kishida stresses salary increases for workers, inflation increasingly damages the household economy. The Kishida administration will submit a supplementary budget in the middle of next month. But budgetary resources for his key policies such as raising the birth rate or expanding defense capability have yet to be identified.

With her money scandal unexplained, Obuchi may cause further damage to the LDP. No end is in sight for the War in Ukraine or for disputes with China on the discharge of processed radioactive water in Fukushima. It is doubtful that a vulnerable administration that stands on a delicate balance of power in the leading party can handle all the critical issues inside and outside of Japan.

As long as support for the Kishida administration remains low, Kishida may not declare a snap election of House of Representatives. But there still is a speculation that passing the supplemental budget in this fall session of the Diet will trigger a snap election, because victory in the general election will support Kishida’s reelection in the LDP presidential election. All the calculations are made for preserving the life of this administration.