Japan candidate for premier singles out China threat

·2-min read
Former Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a news conference in Tokyo, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. Kishida was the first to announce his candidacy to lead the governing Liberal Democratic Party and succeed outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Whoever wins the Sept. 29 party vote is almost certain to be the next government leader. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s former top diplomat and candidate to head its ruling party said Monday that he supports boosting Tokyo's defense budget amid China's growing assertiveness in the region.

Ex-foreign minister Fumio Kishida proposed raising defense spending, possibly above Japan's longstanding cap of 1% of gross domestic product.

“The security environment surrounding our country is increasingly becoming harsh,” Kishida said.

He was speaking at a press conference ahead of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership race scheduled for Sept. 29.

Kishida said Japanese coast guard should work closely with the Maritime Self-Defense Force, especially in defending the Japanese-controlled East China Sea islands, which Beijing also claims.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced earlier this month that he was not seeking another term as head of the LDP. The winner of the governing party's top position will almost certainly be elected prime minister as the Liberal Democrats and their coalition partner hold a parliamentary majority.

Other LDP candidates include Taro Kono, who serves as minister in charge of vaccinations, and former Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi, who shares the ultra-conservative views of former premier Shinzo Abe.

Kishida vowed to “resolutely” stand up to China on important issues like security in the Taiwan Strait and Beijing's crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.

Mild-mannered Kishida, who used to be considered dovish, has shifted to more hawkish security and diplomatic positions as he seeks to gain support from the conservatives in his party.

The former foreign minister later added that Japan must continue “dialogue with China,” the country’s top trading partner.

Recent media surveys and polls showed Kono as a front-runner as next prime minister.

However, only Liberal Democratic lawmakers and some grassroots party members can vote in the leadership contest.

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