Kishida’s Reshuffled Cabinet Faces Many Challenges; Funding for Key Initiatives Likely to Be Contentious

The Yomiuri Shimbun
New Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa arrives at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet, which was reshuffled Wednesday, faces many difficult challenges, such as tackling the low birth rate, securing stable funding to increase defense spending and handling My Number identification card mishaps.

The newly launched Cabinet also has pressing foreign affairs to handle, such as issues related to China as well as North Korea, which has continued its nuclear weapon and missile development programs.

The immediate diplomatic agenda for the Cabinet is to rebuild Japan-China relations. Bilateral ties have been deteriorating due to Beijing’s opposition to the ocean release of treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Kishida expressed his intention to seek opportunities for dialogue with China. “We must give explanations to China carefully,” he said.

In the reshuffled Cabinet, the diplomatic skills of new Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa will soon be put to the test. She is the third woman to assume the post of foreign minister, after Makiko Tanaka (2001-02) and Yoriko Kawaguchi (2002-04). Kamikawa is likely to visit the United States for the “high-level week” of the U.N. General Assembly this month.

On security, the most pressing issue for the Cabinet is the response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. New Defense Minister Minoru Kihara has assumed his first ministerial post, but he is well versed in defense policy, having served as special advisor to the prime minister on security affairs in the cabinets of former Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga.

“He is an expert in this field,” Kishida said at the press conference, expressing his confidence in Kihara.

Stable funding for key measures

Regarding Kishida’s key issues, such as measures to address the low birth rate and an increase in defense spending, a focus will be on whether the prime minister can show a path toward securing stable financial resources. Both issues are expected to be fully considered in the lead-up to the compilation of the fiscal 2024 budget, and Kishida’s leadership will likely be put to the test.

Late last year, the government revised three key security documents, including the National Security Strategy. In the revision, the government announced plans to increase the nation’s defense spending to ¥43 trillion over the next five years from this fiscal year. For that purpose, the prime minister is aiming to secure funding, which would include tax hikes, but opposition to such moves has been strong within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Discussions on the funding could resurface toward the end of the year.

Regarding measures to combat the low birth rate, the government plans to secure an additional annual budget in the mid-¥3 trillion range for three years in order to realize the strategic policy for children’s future, which calls for the expansion of child allowances and other support measures.

In addition to spending reforms, the government has called for creating a subsidy system, in which society as a whole will bear the financial burden, but no conclusions have been reached on the specifics. Because this is an issue that will lead to an increase in the burden on the public, debate on the matter is expected to be contentious.

My Number issue

At the press conference on Wednesday, Kishida announced a plan to set up a digital administrative and financial reform council with the aim of restoring public trust in My Number cards following a series of mishaps.

The new council is intended to discuss ways to reorganize the division of duties between the central and local governments using digital technology, drawing on lessons from the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which digital technology was not sufficiently utilized.

However, the government already has digital-related panels, such as the digital temporary administrative research committee and the council for the realization of the national vision of a digital garden city, so it will likely be necessary to distinguish the roles of these panels.