CPA – October,1 2021
Elena A. Goriacheva, PhD
This article has not been published before and was written exclusively for Council on Pacific Affairs.
On September, 29 2021 Fumio Kishida, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan in 2012-2017, was elected the President of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan and is expected to become its 100th Prime Minister since the 4th of October.
Mass media of Japan, France and Germany are unusually united in describing Kishida as a politician: ‘most experienced’, ‘most middle-of-the-road candidate’, ‘maybe he lacks charisma, but he seems to be reliable’. Among the four diverse LDP candidates, who were social media’s favorite, vaccine czar Taro Kono, and two women candidates: former prime-minister Abe’s protégée Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda, former Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications, Fumio Kishida was the most conservative and the most expected choice of the conservative LDP.
Based on the political views expressed in media interviews of Fumio Kishida, it is possible to sum up his views on the foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region, and towards small states of Pacific.
As for US-Japan alliance which gained new impulse under CoRe partnership declared by Biden and Suga in April 2021, there will be no surprise changes. Unless Japan will have to choose sides in US-China conflict, which Japan avoided to do for a long time, and to declare more clearly its US support. As for now, the US-Japan alliance is going to be even stronger with all visible consequences for the region, so the situation when this region has all the chances to became arena for clashing of superpowers’ interests is becoming more and more visible.
The QUAD initiatives, which were first declared by most long-served Prime-Minister of Japan Abe in 2007, and Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) program seem to get consecutive development under Kishida rule and continuous support from ruling party – LDP. Both programs imply message against growing China presence in the Pacific region, but Kishida is likely to continue to declare previous course on stabilization of relations with China.
We can do nothing but agree with those who think Kishida is the prisoner of the former foreign policy of Abe and Suga cabinets, like Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, who doesn’t expect any policy course change from Fumio Kishida.
The further development of the foreign policy of Japan towards the Pacific small states is likely to depend on the growing China’s influence in the region. Now Japan views China as a superpower actively looking for the new economic perspectives in the Pacific. Japan has long be present in the Pacific as a powerful supporter of local states’ economic initiatives and soft power programs aimed at Pacific youth, but now China seems to aim to overtake Japan’s position at small Pacific states both in terms of financial and humanitarian cooperation.
So possibly there could be several scenarios for the Pacific small states: pessimistic, realistic, and optimistic.
The most unlikely for the present and most undesirable pessimistic scenario may include a possibility of local conflict in the region among the economic and military superpower states.
Under the realistic scenario, there will be no significant changes in Japan’s foreign policy in the Pacific region, all the states – US, Japan, China, and alliances – QUAD and AUKUS, as well as European countries which have their own interests in the Pacific, will try to preserve a status quo. It is still unclear whether Japan will be an active supporter of AUKUS military initiatives, and will Kishida change his view on Japan’s possessing nuclear-powered submarines. In his speech before the election, he doubted the need of nuclear submarines for Japan, prioritizing improving of working conditions of sailors at Self-Defense Forces.
And under the optimistic scenario, Pacific small states will benefit from Japan’s attempts to compete with China, both states will put efforts in investing in the regions to gain local governments’ and peoples’ support.