Who is Fumio Kishida, ex-diplomat & Japan’s likely next prime minister?

An "enthusiastic drinker", he is known to be fond of whisky and sake.

Jean Chien Tay | September 30, 2021, 11:17 PM

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Poised to be Japan's next prime minister, former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida emerged victorious in the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) poll on Sep. 29, Nikkei Asia reported.

Clinching 270 votes, Kishida secured the edge over vaccine minister Taro Kono's 170 votes by a wide margin to take the helm of the ruling LDP.

64-year-old Kishida will be formally elected as Japan's 100th prime minister in a parliamentary session on Oct. 4, according to the BBC.

Attended primary school in New York

Born in 1957, Kishida and his family moved to New York in 1963, after his father took up a Japanese government post in the city, the New York Times (NYT) reported.

He enrolled into a public school in the Queens borough of New York City, and had classmates from various ethnicities.

Though he recalled an incident of racial discrimination from one of his classmates at the time, he revealed his fondness for his time in the U.S. in his book "Kishida Vision".

A Hiroshima native, Kishida hails from a family of politicians, his grandfather and father were members of Japan's House of Representatives, and his cousin is former Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Yoichi Miyazawa.

According to Nikkei, he is also a relative of ex-Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.

Political career

After failing thrice in law school entrance exams, Kishida studied law in Tokyo's Waseda University, and graduated in 1982 at the age of 25.

During his time at Waseda, he became friends with former Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya, according to Bloomberg.

Kishida started off working at a bank, and then entered politics as his father's secretary.

In the 1993 elections, the politician secured the Hiroshima parliamentary seat, a position previously held by his father.

He then ascended through the ranks, and held ministerial positions in three administrations from 2007 to 2017, with profiles ranging from consumer affairs to science and technology.

In 2017, Kishida left the cabinet to take on the position of party policy chief under the Abe administration.

After Abe resigned, Kishida ran and lost in LDP's presidential election in 2020, and was not given a role in then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's cabinet, though two cabinet roles were given to members from his faction.

Kishida is the head of the Kochikai faction, one of the oldest factions in the ruling LDP party, according to Nikkei.

Loves his baseball and sake

Kishida is known for his fondness of baseball, as multiple news outlets have reported on.

He played baseball during his schooling years in Japan, and is a fan of his hometown team, the Hiroshima Carp.

The politician is also an "enthusiastic drinker", and bonded with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov over their fondness for whisky and sake, according to the NYT.

In his book, he recounted planning a birthday party for Lavrov and gifting him a 21-year-old Hibiki Japanese whisky, while the Russian returned the favour with a bottle of vodka bound in a book.

Kishida reportedly wrote, "If we're drinking, we're friends", and expressed his belief that straightforward communication would be the "first step" to international peace.

Policy views

According to Nikkei, Kishida has spent the past decade advocating for policies to reduce income disparities, and he previously announced plans to provide financial support for families in terms of education and housing.

As the representative of Hiroshima -- the city destroyed by a nuclear weapon in the Second World War -- Kishida has consistently spoken against the usage of nuclear weapons, though he appears to be receptive to generating energy from nuclear power technology.

Willing to be tougher on China

As for his foreign policy, the former foreign minister is expected to get tough on China, amid unpopular views towards the country among the population -- a survey revealed that only 9 per cent of respondents had favourable views towards China.

He had raised concerns over perceived assertive behaviour from the neighbouring country on multiple occasions, saying in an interview with Bloomberg that "China is now a big presence in international society, and I have various concerns about its authoritarian attitude".

Kishida had along advocated for a rise in Japan's defence spending above the traditional cap of 1 per cent of annual GDP, citing the threats from China and North Korea.

While it still remains to be seen if Kishida will go through with lasting changes in Japan's China policy, his willingness to utter a tougher stance on China indicates a shift in tone within the LDP, as pointed out by Tobias Harris, senior fellow for Asia at the Center for American Progress.

Spoke in Singapore Summit 2019

Speaking at the Singapore Summit in 2019, Kishida noted that Japan and China had a tense relationship when he first assumed the position of foreign minister, recalling an "intense exchange" with the Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister at the time.

Nevertheless, he expressed his belief that Japan-China relations will continue to improve, and stressed on the importance of continuous efforts to stabilise the relationship.

Touching on the implications of the U.S.-China rivalry on Japan, Kishida also mentioned the need for Japan to have "better control" over their economy.

He also stated that Japan's relationship with the U.S. is "important", and lauded Abe's close relationship with then U.S. President Donald Trump for contributing to Japan-U.S. relations.

Top image via Bloomberg/Getty Images

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