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Japan’s populist, pragmatic new prime minister, Suga, is pushing for Abe’s vision

TOKYO (AP) – Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, is leaving on Sunday for his first overseas raid since taking over from former boss Shinzo Abe last month, leaving for Vietnam and Indonesia.

The choice to visit Southeast Asia underscores Japan’s efforts to counter Chinese influence and build stronger economic and defense ties in the region, much in line with Abe’s vision.

It also reflects the pandemic reality. As the United States was bound by domestic politics before the Nov. 3 election, Suga was unable to immediately turn to Washington for talks with Japan̵

7;s most important ally after replacing Abe, who resigned for health reasons.

As she emerges from Abe’s shadow with promises to “work for the people,” Suga turns out to be an even tougher line in some ways. This has caused damage in Japan and could anger neighbors who are already unhappy with Abe’s nationalist agenda.

Abe had promised to restore Japan’s declining diplomatic growth and national pride by promoting ultranationalist policies such as traditional family values ​​and amending the post-World War II pacifist constitution to allow the country a greater military role abroad.

While Abe traveled relentlessly abroad during his nearly eight-year term, often as Japan’s best salesman, Suga stayed mostly at home to run bureaucrats to push through economic, security and other domestic policies.

Suga is expected to sign a bilateral defense equipment and technology transfer agreement with Vietnam as part of Tokyo’s efforts to boost exports of Japanese military equipment. This is a signal that Suga will certainly follow in Abe’s footsteps in diplomacy.

At home, Suga is best known for his behind-the-scenes work on Abe’s agenda as chief secretary. He skillfully used his humble origins as the son of a strawberry farmer and teacher and his low-profile, hard-working style to create a more populist image than his predecessor.

As much of the world, including Japan, is busy fighting the coronavirus pandemic, Suga is focusing more on results. So far, he seems to be trying to differentiate himself from Abe by pumping up a bunch of friendly policies designed to show his practical and quick work.

With national elections expected in months, there is little time to lose.

(asterisk) What is always on my mind is to deal with what needs to be achieved, without hesitation and quickly, and start with what is possible … and let people recognize the change, “he said. Suga told reporters on Friday when he celebrated his first month in the office.

He has instructed his cabinet to hurry with the approval of several projects, such as removing the requirement for Japanese Hanko-style stamps, widely used instead of signatures on business and government documents. It is making progress with its earlier efforts to reduce mobile phone tariffs and encourage the use of computers and online government and business.

Dealing with the low birth rate in Japan and the shrinking population, he supports the provision of insurance coverage for the treatment of infertility.

“For now, Prime Minister Suga is working on policies that are easy to understand and popular with many people, as his administration is clearly striving to maintain a high rating of support,” said Riosuke Nishida, a sociologist at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. “He is boldly tackling reforms one after another, and this is his strategy to make his government look as if it is achieving results.”

At the same time, Suga’s refusal to approve the appointments of six professors from a list of 105 in Japan’s state-funded Scientific Council has accused him of trying to stifle dissent and affect academic freedoms.

The valve seems unlikely to enter a serious crisis for Suga, who gave no explanation other than saying that his decision was legal and that the academic group that advises and scrutinizes government policies should be acceptable to the public. .

But that added to fears that Suga may be more outspoken than Abe in abandoning the opposition: The council, set up in 1949, has repeatedly opposed military technology research at universities, most recently in 2017. His objections against government funding for such research are at odds with Abe’s efforts to build Japan’s military capabilities.

Many Japanese, especially academics, are wary of abuse of power given the country’s history of militarism before and during World War II and post-war anti-communist campaigns.

Historian Masayasu Hosaka, writing in the Mainichi newspaper, described it as a “purge.”

The surprise decision sent a rating of support to Suga’s cabinet to just over 50% last week from well over 60% shortly after he took office.

In addition to concerns about possible interference with academic freedom, the education ministry called on public schools to display a black handkerchief symbolizing mourning, along with the national flag, and to observe a minute’s silence to pay tribute to the late state-funded Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. the funeral took place on saturday.

Such actions would come as no surprise to Abe, who, as the grandson of wartime leader Nobusuke Kishi and the heir to a political dynasty, adheres to his ultra-conservative agenda.

But while Suga’s personal ideology is unknown, he followed Abe’s example by making ritual donations of religious ornaments at the Yasukuni Shrine to pay tribute to those killed in the war. China and South Korea consider the sanctuary, which also commemorates executed Japanese war criminals, a symbol of Japan’s militaristic past.

Suga “looks like a man without ideology or political vision,” Nishida said. “His failure to formulate a medium- and long-term goal is worrying … Everything he does seems to take precedence over the election.”

According to some analysts, this could be risky. The heavy burden in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party gave support to Suga, an amateur politician who was not affiliated with any of the party factions, when Abe suddenly withdrew.

Suga could lose their support just as easily, despite carefully designed cabinet and party members who show he remembers his precarious situation, said Koichi Nakano, a professor of international politics at Sofia University in Tokyo and an outspoken critic of Abe.

(asterisk) In principle, the LDP is a party of hereditary politicians and this is Mr Suga’s weakness, (asterisk) said Nakano.


Follow Marie Yamaguchi at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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