Japan’s Kishida follows diplomatic line of slain ex-PM Abe to shore up public support

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, left, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hold talks in Tokyo on Monday afternoon.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hopes a flurry of meetings with leaders visiting Japan to attend the state funeral for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will showcase his intent both at home and abroad to carry on the diplomatic policies Abe championed.

Kishida also anticipates that boosting understanding for the funeral that sparked a swell of public disapproval will help to stop the slide in support for his Cabinet.

During a Monday afternoon meeting with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris at the State Guest House in Minato Ward, Tokyo, Kishida said that the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region is the most important strategic issue for Japan and the United States. Kishida reaffirmed his desire to continue working closely with Washington to achieve a “free and open Indo-Pacific” — a concept Abe advocated.

Abe unveiled his vision for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” in August 2016, while in office. Under this concept, partner countries in the region will strengthen their ties to promote the rule of law and freedom of navigation, and curb China’s increasingly hegemonic actions.

Kishida also held talks with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Monday. Abe considered Vietnam to be an important pillar in the free and open Indo-Pacific framework, and it was the destination for his first overseas visit after the launch of his second Cabinet. Touching on this, Kishida vowed he would work hard to develop the diplomatic legacy passed down to him.

Abe was a driving force behind the launch of the Quad framework that includes Japan, the United States, Australia and India. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also are scheduled to attend Abe’s funeral and have each held talks with Kishida.

At a press conference Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno emphasized that the nation would thoroughly continue the diplomatic legacy that Abe had nurtured, and demonstrate both domestically and internationally the intention to develop it further.

The Kishida Cabinet is working to revise three key security-related documents, including the National Security Strategy, by the end of the year. The current strategy was issued in December 2013, and therefore contains no mention of the Quad or the free and open Indo-Pacific concept. Kishida plans to incorporate these into the new strategy and, as Abe had aspired to do, push ahead with efforts to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities.

“This will be a great opportunity for the prime minister to declare that he is the one who will carry on Abe’s diplomatic approach,” a close aide to Kishida said.

In a Yomiuri Shimbun opinion poll conducted Sept. 2-4, 56% of respondents said they disapproved of the government’s decision to hold a state funeral for Abe, indicating it would be a stretch to say the government has gained broad public support for the event. A former Cabinet minister from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said, “Even if there isn’t a drastic change in that situation, I hope the critical mood toward the funeral will ease, even a little.”