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Fumio Kishida Is Japan’s Next Prime Minister

Kishida’s victory asserts the power of party insiders as the popular Taro Kono loses out.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Former Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida celebrates leadership win.
Former Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (right) celebrates with outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga after being announced the winner of the Liberal Democratic Party leadership election in Tokyo on Sept. 29. Carl Court/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Fumio Kishida wins race to become Japan’s next prime minister, U.S. and EU officials hold trade and technology talks, and Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Russia.

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Kishida to Become Japan’s Next Prime Minister

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Fumio Kishida wins race to become Japan’s next prime minister, U.S. and EU officials hold trade and technology talks, and Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Russia.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Kishida to Become Japan’s Next Prime Minister

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has backed Fumio Kishida as its new leader, effectively making him prime minister-in-waiting for the world’s third largest economy.

Kishida, a former Japanese foreign minister, won out in a highly contested election, beating Taro Kono in a runoff vote on Wednesday afternoon in Tokyo after the two had virtually tied in the first round of voting. His inauguration as prime minister is now assured, as the LDP holds a comfortable majority in Japan’s House of Representatives.

The vote comes just over a year after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga rose to the pinnacle of the party following Shinzo Abe’s resignation from the post. Suga announced his plans to step down earlier this month as his cabinet’s sinking approval rating risked damaging the party in upcoming elections.

Suga’s experience is a cautionary tale for Kishida: After a strong start, perception of Suga’s government steadily soured, driven by public anger over the hosting of the Tokyo Olympics and a surge in coronavirus cases.

Party power. Kishida’s rise comes at the expense of Kono, who had been the popular favorite in opinion polls. Although Kono won over the party’s rank and file in today’s contest, Kishida ultimately benefitted from LDP party rules favoring elected members in the event of a runoff.

Kishidas challenges. Although likely to pursue similar economic policies to his predecessors, Kishida is thought to be more moderate than some in his party when it comes to China, saying he would consider meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. His first challenges will be domestic, however, dealing with the country’s coronavirus epidemic and leading the LDP into new parliamentary elections, expected to take place in November.

Konos comeback? Although today’s vote represents the end of Kono’s leadership bid for now, Suga’s experience and the short shelf life of Japan’s prime ministers in general—Kishida will be the 10th in the past 20 years—means it’s unlikely he’ll fade into the background.

Speaking to Foreign Policy before the vote, Kristi Govella, a Japan expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said a loss could yet be a blessing in disguise for the popular minister, considering the scale of the task ahead of Kishida. “Its possible that Kono could very well find himself a front-runner in another LDP leadership race a year from now and under more favorable conditions.”

What We’re Following Today

Trans-Atlantic tech talks. The first meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC) takes place today in Pittsburgh with senior officials from both sides in attendance. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and Trade Representative Katherine Tai will join the U.S. side while Europe’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, and trade commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis, will represent the European Union.

Today’s meeting will focus on the global shortage of semiconductors, a topic that also appeared on the agenda of last week’s Quadrilateral Security Dialogue summit. As European Union officials head to Pittsburgh, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry heads in the other direction for talks in Switzerland, Italy, and France.

Putin and Erdogan meet in Sochi. Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Russia, today for the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since the coronavirus pandemic began. The two are expected to discuss several areas of interest to the two governments, including Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Caucasus, according to a Kremlin press release.

U.S. officials will be watching for any further announcements on Turkish plans to purchase more Russian S-400 missile systems following Erdogan’s defiant comments broadcasted on Sunday. The U.S. State Department has threatened further sanctions against Turkish officials if a sale goes ahead.

Germany’s next leader. Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Olaf Scholz’s ascension to the German chancellor’s office came a step closer on Tuesday after a senior member of the rival Christian Democrat coalition offered his congratulations to the Social Democrat leader, something party leader Armin Laschet has yet to do as he holds out hope for a coalition deal.

Markus Söder, the head of the Bavarian sister party of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), sent his good wishes to the SPD leader, saying it was “crystal clear” Scholz had the best chance of becoming chancellor.

Scholz’s may have a surprise number two in a prospective coalition government as reports indicate Greens party co-leader Robert Habeck would become vice chancellor rather than the Greens chancellor candidate, Annalena Baerbock, in a so-called traffic light arrangement.

Keep an Eye On

Macrons military call. France softened the blow from its recent loss of an Australian submarine contract by agreeing to a $3.5 billion warship deal with Greece on Tuesday. In his first comments since the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia announced the so-called AUKUS pact, French President Emmanuel Macron called for further European integration on defense policy: “The Europeans must stop being naive. When we are under pressure from powers, which at times harden [their stance], we need to react and show that we have the power and capacity to defend ourselves,” he said.

Guineas transition. Guinea’s junta announced plans for a new transitional government on Tuesday, naming its leader, Mamady Doumbouya, as president until fresh elections are held. Under the terms of a transitional charter, none of the members of the transitional government—which will include an 81-member transitional council—will be permitted to run for office afterward. Earlier this month, the Economic Community of West African States demanded the junta hold new elections within six months.

Belarus’s constitution. Belarus will hold a referendum on a new constitution in February, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko announced on Tuesday, as he vowed to prevent the country’s opposition from assuming power lest they “destroy the country.” Last November, Lukashenko said he would step down once a new constitution was in place, but he appears to have reversed his stance in recent months. The new constitution establishes a new governing body—the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly—but Lukashenko did not elaborate on what kind of power it would wield.

Odds and Ends

A Danish art museum has been left significantly out of pocket (or helped finance a brand new work of art, depending on one’s perspective) after $84,000 in cash the museum had given an artist to recreate two of his works became the inspiration for a new piece:two blank canvases titled “Take The Money and Run.”

Artist Jens Haaning had been commissioned by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark, to reproduce “An Average Danish Annual Income” and “An Average Austrian Annual Income,” two pieces that represented the total amounts using framed U.S. dollars. Museum authorities believe Haaning’s interpretation went beyond the usual artistic license and have given him until January to return the money.

In a press release, Haaning defended his minimalist creation: “The artwork is essentially about the working conditions of artists. It is a statement saying that we also have the responsibility of questioning the structures that we are part of. And if these structures are completely unreasonable, we must break with them.”

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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