Japan PM contender Kono seeks incentives to focus on energy, 5G

Japan
Japan's Vaccine Minister Taro Kono takes part in a group interview in Tokyo
Japan’s Vaccine Minister Taro Kono, who is running to replace Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, takes part in a group interview on September 16, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. Reuters/Kim Kyung-hoon

September 16, 2021

by Yoshifumi Takemoto

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Vaccine Minister Taro Kono, running to replace Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, said on Thursday that any new economic stimulus measures should prioritize spending on renewable energy and expanding 5G networks across the country .

Suga’s sudden decision two weeks ago sparked a flurry of campaigning among senior figures in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Former Defense Minister Fumio Kishida, former Interior Minister Sane Takachi, and former Interior Minister Seiko Noda are contesting against Kono in the September 29 election for LDP president. The winner is assured to be prime minister because of the party’s majority in the lower house of parliament.

Noda’s candidacy, announced on Thursday evening, could mean that no candidate wins in the first round and the election goes to a run-off. This would be in Kishida’s favor as the grassroots party members are unable to vote in the later rounds and the politics of factionalism will come to the fore.

Kono, 58, who has regularly topped opinion polls for which Japanese are wanted as prime minister, received the support of LDP heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba on Wednesday.

In a group interview, Kono declined to say how much spending would be justified, saying the government should determine the target areas before debating how big the package should be.

“The incentive package should not have a predetermined size,” Kono said. “There needs to be a list of priorities, such as steps to promote renewable energy and expand 5G networks across the country.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic still ravaging the economy, the Bank of Japan’s ultra-loose policy was “difficult to change suddenly”, Kono said, prompting the central bank to clearly communicate its policy intentions to the markets. should be clearly stated.

Japan has failed to make much headway in its growth strategy, a key element of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” stimulus policies, Kono said, indicating that structural reforms will help put the economy on a solid recovery path. will be one of the priorities.

“It’s clear that companies’ substantial internal reserves did not translate into higher wages. We need to be clear that the goal we’ll be aiming for is higher wages.”

Call for better intelligence

Kono, educated in the US and fluent in English, hopes to overcome a combination of self-confidence, strategy and persistence in becoming prime minister.

The former defense and foreign minister said every effort should be made to hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but Japan also needed to improve its intelligence gathering ability.

North Korea on Wednesday launched underwater ballistic missiles inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Kono said he would work to resolve the issue of the Japanese abducted by North Korea decades ago, which has long been the Japanese position to improve diplomatic and economic ties with Pyongyang.

Noting that he had discussed the issue with North Korean officials as foreign minister, he also said the only way out was to talk to Kim.

“I want to take all possible diplomatic measures to make this happen,” he said.

Abe and Suga have both said they are ready to meet Kim unconditionally, but the last meeting between Japanese and North Korean leaders was in 2004, when Junichiro Koizumi met Kim’s late father, Kim Jong-il.

Kono shied away from mainstream thinking in the conservative LDP, however, by saying that he supports same-sex marriage.

“I agree with both,” he said, allowing same-sex marriage and husbands and wives to have different surnames, both of which are not possible in Japan – although some municipalities now issue same-sex partnership certificates.

“While raising questions on such values, there should be a wide-ranging discussion in Parliament without being bound by party ties,” he said.

(Reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto; Writing by Leika Kihara and Elaine Lies; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, William Mallard and Himani Sarkar)

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