Difficulties Continue for Kishida after State Visit to U.S.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden shake hands at a welcoming ceremony at the White House in Washington on Wednesday.

Raleigh, North Carolina, April 13 (Jiji Press)—Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has apparently succeeded in demonstrating the strong Japan-U.S. ties around the world during his latest visit to the United States as a state guest, but he may find it difficult to leverage the diplomatic achievement in shoring up his flagging administration.

“I was able to tell the U.S. Congress, the American people and the world what kind of future Japan and the United States, as global partners, are trying to create for the next generation,” Kishida told reporters in the southern U.S. state of North Carolina on Friday.

At a White House summit Wednesday, Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed to strengthen their countries’ cooperation in various fields, including security and defense, apparently keeping China, which is increasing its hegemonic moves, in mind.

In his speech at a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Thursday, Kishida underlined the need for Japan and the United States to work together to maintain the international order, receiving a standing ovation from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

In North Carolina, Kishida highlighted Japanese companies’ investment in the United States, through his visits to an automotive battery plant of Toyota Motor Corp. and a factory of Honda Motor Co.’s aircraft unit, making preparations in case former U.S. President Donald Trump, who attaches importance to bolstering economic benefits for his country, returns to the White House in the November presidential election.

On the domestic front, however, the Kishida administration is struggling amid a high-profile slush funds scandal involving factions of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

In the run-up to Kishida’s U.S. trip, the LDP punished senior members of the faction formerly headed by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the faction of former LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, as the prime minister tried to draw the curtain on the scandal in which some fundraising party revenues kicked back to members of the factions was not recorded in political funds reports and was thus turned into slush funds.

Former LDP General Council chief Ryu Shionoya, who was urged to leave the party, the second-heaviest measure under its penalty system, over the scandal, asked the party Friday to review the punishment, publicly expressing his dissatisfaction with Kishida.

With many members of the public believing that the punishments are insufficient, opposition parties look certain to grill the Kishida administration at budget committee meetings at the Diet, the country’s parliament, on April 22 and 24.

Another major hurdle will be three by-elections on April 28 for the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet.

In the face of the public backlash over the slush funds scandal, the LDP has opted not to field its own candidates in two of the three constituencies—the No. 15 district in Tokyo and the No. 3 district in the southwestern prefecture of Nagasaki.

If the LDP loses the remaining election, in the No. 1 constituency in Shimane Prefecture, western Japan, LDP members are seen increasingly moving to pursue Kishida’s responsibility.

Kishida’s term of office as LDP president is set to expire in September, but it remains unclear if he will be re-election party leader.

While Kishida is hoping to utilize the achievements from his U.S. trip to shore up his administration, a senior government official indicated that it is difficult to make the public feel the diplomatic results.

Some are speculating that Kishida may dissolve the Lower House at the end of the ongoing regular parliamentary session in June for a general election.

Because it is uncertain whether public support for Kishida’s cabinet will have bounced back by that time, however, a veteran LDP lawmaker said, “The prime minister will be unable to dissolve the all-important Lower House” at the end of the Diet session.