TOKYO: Japan needs to let its coast guard work smoothly with self-defence forces, in the face of assertiveness by giant neighbour China, Fumio Kishida, a contender to head the ruling party, and so become the next prime minister, said on Monday.
Only lawmakers and grassroots members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will vote for its chief in a September 29 election, but candidates’ popularity with the public counts, as the winner will lead it into general elections this year.
“The security environment around Japan is getting tougher,” Kishida told a news conference.
“We need to strive to ensure maritime safety through such measures as bolstering coast guard capability and allowing them to work with the Self-Defence Forces.”
Acquiring the capability to strike enemy targets was one option, Kishida said, adding that he would not blindly adhere to holding defence spending below 1 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product if necessary to protect citizens.
The remarks follow a surprise announcement this month by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that he would step down, ending a one-year term in which his support crumbled as coronavirus infections surged.
The LDP’s dominant position in the lower house of parliament ensures the post of prime minister for its leader.
Kishida stressed the importance of protecting human rights, democracy and freedom, adding that, if elected, he would appoint a prime ministerial aide to monitor China’s debated treatment of its Uyghur ethnic minority.
“Through cooperation with countries with which Japan shares universal values, I would raise high the torch of freedom and democracy,” the former foreign minister said.
In weekend opinion polls on the choice of a successor to Suga as head of the ruling party, the minister in charge of vaccines, Taro Kono, emerged as the favoured candidate.
He was chosen by 33 percent of respondents in a weekend survey by the Asahi daily, followed by 16 percent for former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba and 14 percent for Kishida.
The survey also showed that 58 percent of respondents believed the next LDP leader should not take over the policies of Suga and Shinzo Abe, who preceded Suga.
A similar poll by the Nikkei business daily also put Kono ahead, backed by 27 percent of respondents, with 17 percent for Ishiba and 14 percent for Kishida.
Kono and Kishida have declared their candidacy for the top party post, while Ishiba has not revealed his intention.