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Fumio Kishida, Japan's new conciliatory and high-profile diplomatic leader

The new prime minister and former foreign and defence minister heads his own liberal faction within Japan's conservative party
Japan's former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida speaks after being announced as the winner of the Liberal Democratic Party leadership election in Tokyo, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

AP/CARL COURT  -   Japan's former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida speaks after being announced as the winner of the Liberal Democratic Party leadership election in Tokyo, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021

Fumio Kishida will become Japan's new prime minister after winning the ruling party's primaries with a conciliatory profile, extensive diplomatic experience and an agenda that includes far-reaching economic reforms.

A third-generation professional politician, Kishida was born 64 years ago in Tokyo's Shibuya district, although he has his roots in Hiroshima, the western Japanese city that was the first in history to be attacked with a nuclear bomb in the final phase of World War II.

The former foreign and defence minister heads his own liberal faction within Japan's conservative party, and has come to power in his second attempt to conquer the party's throne, preceded by a reputation as an efficient but discreet manager.

El candidato a las elecciones presidenciales del gobernante Partido Liberal Democrático (PLD), Fumio Kishida (C), exministro de Asuntos Exteriores, celebra con el primer ministro saliente, Yoshihide Suga (2º izq.), y sus compañeros de candidatura, Seiko Noda (izq.), Sanae Takaichi (2º dcha.) y Taro Kono (dcha.), tras ser elegido como nuevo presidente en las elecciones presidenciales del PLD, en Tokio
AP/CARL COURT - Ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election candidate Fumio Kishida (C), former foreign minister, celebrates with outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (2nd L) and fellow candidates Seiko Noda (L), Sanae Takaichi (2nd R) and Taro Kono (R) after being elected as the new chairman in the LDP presidential election in Tokyo.
Rupturism with neoliberal policies

Kishida is considered a continuist leader in the general lines of his party, although he arrives with the promise of breaking with the "neoliberal policies" that have been the hallmark of Shinzo Abe's prolonged government (2012-2020) and his "Abenomics" strategy, which is still in force.

The new PLD leader has stated that he will promote a more equitable distribution of wealth by supporting the most disadvantaged and targeting the country's large corporations, which he has accused of sometimes "harassing" small and medium-sized enterprises.

He also aims to push through a new economic stimulus package of "tens of trillions of yen" (tens of billions of euros) aimed at getting the recovery back on track after the impact of the pandemic.

El candidato a la elección presidencial del gobernante Partido Liberal Democrático (PLD) Fumio Kishida (C), exministro de Asuntos Exteriores, reacciona tras ser elegido como nuevo presidente en las elecciones presidenciales del PLD en Tokio el 29 de septiembre de 2021
AFP/ JIJI PRESS - Ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election candidate Fumio Kishida (C), former foreign minister, reacts after being elected as the new president in the LDP presidential election in Tokyo on September 29, 2021.
Conciliator and anti-nuclear

His CV as Japan's foreign minister from 2012 to 2017, precisely under Abe's government, includes progress on sensitive issues such as the thaw with Russia and the 2015 agreement with Seoul to compensate South Korean sex slaves, although this pact was later scrapped by Moon Jae-in's South Korean government.

Kishida has been the longest-serving foreign minister in post-war Japan and was the architect of former US president Barack Obama's historic visit to Hiroshima in 2017, in which for the first time a leader of the country that carried out the nuclear attack paid tribute to the victims of the deadly weapon.

The politician also aims to follow up on the Hiroshima local authorities' initiative to "lead global efforts" for nuclear disarmament, which could mean Japan's move to support the UN's Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, whose signatories do not include the nuclear powers.

In the area of security and foreign affairs, one of his priorities will be to reinforce the country's defensive capabilities vis-à-vis China, whose growing military presence and economic influence he has described as "deeply alarming", in addition to strengthening the traditional alliance with the United States.

Un peatón mira una televisión pública que muestra a Fumio Kishida, exministro de Asuntos Exteriores, durante la transmisión en directo de las elecciones presidenciales del Partido Liberal Democrático (PLD), el miércoles 29 de septiembre de 2021, en Tokio
AP/EUGENE HOSHIKO - A pedestrian watches a public television showing Fumio Kishida, former foreign minister, during a live broadcast of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in Tokyo.
Better relations with neighbours?

Despite his messages about Beijing, the arrival in power of a moderate prime minister valued for his capacity for dialogue could mean an improvement in ties with the Asian giant and with Seoul, which are not at their best, as well as with Russia.

Those who know him describe him as a calm, honest person who knows how to listen, although perhaps too serious and uncharismatic for politics, even in a country where leaders with great stage presence are rare.

One of his few initiatives that struck a chord with young audiences in Japan during his long political career was his appearance in a video with Japanese artist Piko Taro, a version of the viral hit "Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen" as part of a UN campaign to promote the Sustainable Development Goals.

A fan of his hometown baseball team Hiroshima Carp and a lover of okonomiyaki, one of the area's culinary specialities, Kishida also has a reputation as a heavy drinker.

His resistance to alcohol, according to local press reports, enabled him to hold his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to vodka and sake at one of the meetings between the two ministers that laid the groundwork for a subsequent summit between Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin to address a long-standing territorial dispute.