On September 16, Japan’s National Assembly officially elected Mr. Yoshihide Suga as the 99th prime minister in the country. Before that, he had an overwhelming victory over two other candidates in the race to chair the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). However, the new Prime Minister Suga does not have much time to taste victory because of a “mountain” of challenges awaiting this politician ahead.
The first challenge facing the new Prime Minister Suga is to help Japan control the epidemic of acute respiratory infections, COVID-19. After calming down at the end of May, the disease has resurfaced in this country since the end of June. This wave of infection is more intense than before. Unlike the previous wave, which originated with Chinese tourists and Japanese of Chinese origin, this outbreak started within Japan, with the starting point of Tokyo and then spreading to many countries. Other major cities and provinces such as Osaka and Fukuoka.
After peaking in mid-August, with the number of new infections reaching more than 1,600 people / day, the COVID-19 epidemic is showing signs of lull in Japan. However, many experts worry that this disease could be strong again in the winter. Therefore, how to control the epidemic in the “Rising Sun” country is still a big challenge for the government of the new Prime Minister Suga.
During the LDP presidential campaign, Mr. Suga pledged to “stop the outbreak of the disease at any cost” and “aim to have enough vaccines for the entire population in the first half of 2021. “. However, given the current progress of research and development for COVID-19 vaccines in Japan and in companies that Japan has signed an agreement to buy, that goal seems unlikely.
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic, the increase in consumption taxes and the US-China trade war, the Japanese economy has been in recession since the end of last year. In the second quarter of 2020, the country’s real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by 28.1% compared to the same period last year. This is the quarter with the strongest decline in the last 40 years. Notably, the two most important growth pillars of Japan’s economy, including personal consumption and exports, both fell sharply, at 7.9% and 18.5%, respectively. Therefore, reviving the economy in the midst of an epidemic still raging is another major challenge for the new Prime Minister Suga.
Along with controlling the COVID-19 epidemic and reviving the economy, Mr. Suga also needs to solve a series of other thorny issues such as aging population, strengthening the social security system, promoting growth. in the medium and long term, and improving the budget revenue – expenditure balance to reduce the public debt / GDP ratio, which is at the highest level in developed economies. These are issues that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has not been able to solve in his nearly eight years in office.
Regarding security issues, Mr. Suga will also have to deal with two issues that Prime Minister Abe is very passionate about but cannot complete, namely amending the Constitution and the possibility that Japan possesses the ability to attack the bases. rockets of enemies in foreign countries. These are controversial issues in Japanese public opinion and could crack the ruling coalition between the LDP and the Fair Party.
Another challenge also associated with the COVID-19 epidemic is the organization of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. According to the original plan, these events would take place this year. However, due to the COVID-19 translation, at the end of March, the Japanese Government had to decide to delay the organization to next year. Up to this point, both the government and the Tokyo metropolitan government are determined to organize the Olympic and Paralympic Games according to the “at all costs” plan. Even so, the future of these international sporting events remains murky amid no signs of the COVID-19 epidemic soon calming down globally. As head of government, Mr. Suga is sure to be the final decision-maker on the fate of these events.
On the diplomatic front, in the last election campaign, Mr. Suga vowed to “build foreign and security policies based on the Japan-US alliance relationship” and build “good relations. with China and its neighbors ”. However, maintaining a stable alliance with the United States is not an easy task, especially under the administration of US President Donald Trump.
The most difficult problem is that the new Prime Minister Suga is about to face is negotiating with Washington about the cost of garrisoning US soldiers in Japan. According to former US National Security Adviser John Bolton, last year, on behalf of President Trump, he asked Japan to pay $ 8 billion a year to support the funding of the US military’s garrison in the East. North Asia, four times the amount Tokyo is paying. This is a very large amount in the context of Japan’s increasingly tight budget because of the huge expenditures to revive the economy.
So, the new Prime Minister Suga’s task is how to build a close and trusting personal relationship with President Trump or his successor after the US presidential election in early November. while minimizing the amount that Japan has to pay extra for US forces stationed in “Rising Sun” country.
On the other hand, Mr. Suga will have to overcome many challenges in maintaining stable relations with China, especially inside the LDP still opposing the organization of a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi Jinping) to Japan and Sino-US relations are very strained.
Other external challenges that Mr. Suga needs to address in the near future are improving relations with South Korea, which is strained due to historical issues and territorial disputes; accelerates talks with Russia on the fate of four disputed islands off the coast of Hokkaido, which Moscow is under the management of and calls the South Kurils, while Tokyo calls the Northern Territories to pave the way for signing peace treaty, officially ending the situation of war between the two countries; resolving the issue of North Korea kidnapping Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s in order to work towards the normalization of relations between the two countries. These are extremely difficult problems that cannot be solved in a day or two.
In addition, Prime Minister Suga must also do his best to continue the diplomatic achievements left by his predecessor, such as promoting a free and open Asia-Pacific region, and deepening the relationship. with Australia and India – two of the four countries in the “Diamond Quartet”, further strengthening ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and continuing to be at the forefront of efforts to promote freedom trade in the world through the expansion of the network of free trade agreements, including the regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
As can be seen, Prime Minister Suga took office in the context of Japan facing unprecedented difficulties since World War II, both domestic and foreign, and he was assigned. destined to overcome that challenge to elevate Japan in the international arena. Moreover, Suga’s term as LDP chair will only last until September 2021, so how the above challenges are resolved will determine the politician’s future.
This is a test of leadership and strategic tactics of this experienced politician, especially when Mr. Suga is a politician himself and does not belong to any faction in the LDP. However, he received support from 5 of the 7 largest factions in the LDP in the last election. It is important that Mr. Suga continues to maintain that support to help the government easily implement policies in the future.