Japan governing party begins race to pick Suga successor

APTOPIX Japan Politics

TOKYO (AP) — The race is on for the next Japanese prime minister.

Official election campaigning began Friday for the new head of Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party, who typically becomes the national leader because of the party's control over parliament.

Four candidates are competing in the Sept. 29 vote to replace outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who will quit when his term ends at the end of this month after serving only one year. He took over from predecessor Shinzo Abe.

Their policies largely focus on the pandemic and its economic fallout, and on the increasingly assertive role China is playing in regional affairs.

Taro Kono, currently the Cabinet minister in charge of vaccinations and a front-runner, said in his kickoff speech on Friday that he wants a society that people see as compassionate.

On foreign policy, Kono, who has served as foreign and defense ministers, said Japan and the international community should resolutely address Chinese attempts to change the status quo in the region and “let China know it has to pay a certain cost if it violates international rules.” He said, however, that Japan-China relations are not only about security.

Kono, considered a maverick in Japan’s conservative political culture, says he also seeks to reform his own party.

Suga later Friday said he wants Kono to be his successor. Suga handpicked him to help speed up vaccinations to achieve his ambitious goals of bolstering daily doses to above 1 million and possibly finish inoculating all those who wish to get their shots by October to early November.