TOKYO: A Group of Seven foreign ministers’ meeting is usually an opportunity for Japan’s top diplomat to step into the global spotlight. For Fumio Kishida, the foreign minister who often stands in the shadow of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the meeting that wrapped up Monday in Hiroshima means so much more.
Through the two-day conference, Kishida, who hails from the atomic-bombed city, gained him the kind of public exposure that could provide the political lift needed should he bid for the post of Prime Minister.
Kishida’s potentially crowning accomplishment came when his US counterpart, John Kerry, became the first sitting US secretary of state to offer a floral wreath at the cenotaph in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
As the foreign minister who has served longer than any of his current G-7 counterparts, Kishida labored tirelessly for a successful Hiroshima gathering. Earlier, he had traveled to several of the G-7 countries, including nuclear powers, to study public sentiment on nuclear weapons and lay the groundwork for the visit.
Kishida’s efforts paid off when Kerry made a last-minute suggestion that the foreign ministers walk to the A-bomb dome, another Hiroshima site that stands as a reminder of the force of the US attack 71 years ago.
Kerry also said after the conference that “everyone” should visit the site – an endorsement that might pave the way for a potential visit there by US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G-7 Ise-Shima summit scheduled for May 26 and 27 in Mie Prefecture.
Kishida is viewed as taking a back seat to Abe, who is considered the architect of Japan’s current diplomatic and defense policies. When Abe took office, political analysts said he tapped Kishida as foreign minister because he would do as he was told.
But soon after taking the post, the Hiroshima lawmaker clearly made nuclear disarmament one of his priorities.
“As someone who grew up hearing about and seeing the horror caused by the nuclear bombs (in Hiroshima and Nagasaki), I am resolved to tackle nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation more than anybody else has done,” Kishida said in Sept. 2013 at a high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on nuclear disarmament.
Abe and Kishida have much in common: both were elected in 1993, and both are political blue bloods and third-generation lawmakers. Yet Kishida’s political philosophy differs markedly from that of his boss.
As the head of Kochikai, a liberal faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Kishida last year said his group will not seek a revision of the Constitution.
Still, it is unclear whether Kishida ever challenges Abe over the differences in their political stances.
Even now that the G-7 foreign ministers’ meeting is over and considered a success, Kishida remains saddled with other looming diplomatic concerns. He is scheduled to meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on Friday to lay the groundwork for Abe’s unofficial visit to Russia in May. He also hopes to visit China in the coming months to move forward that bilateral relationship.
Yet Kishida has privately hinted that he does not wish to continue as top diplomat after the Upper House election in July. As Abe’s term as LDP president is up in Sept. 2018, Kishida could run for that post.
If Kishida is to truly seek the reins of the LDP, he must first cement his political power base within the party by assuming a high-ranking position, such as secretary-general.
Critics note that one of Kishida’s rivals, Shigeru Ishiba, the minister in charge of revitalizing local economies, is much better known and more popular among the public.
“Kishida will need support from Abe and Abe’s faction. But he will also be required to inherit Abe’s political priorities,” said a political analyst who declined to be named. TNS