Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Takashi Arimoto

【#825】Would a Prime Minister Kono Be Okay?

Takashi Arimoto / 2021.09.09 (Thu)

September 6, 2021

Administrative reform minister Taro Kono has shown his intention to run for the presidency of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s announcement of his decision not to seek reelection for the presidency. In public polls, Kono has ranked as a most popular candidate to succeed Suga. The next LDP president will become prime minister immediately because of the LDP’s dominance in the National Diet. However, I would argue that Kono, though being popular, is not suitable for the top government post for the following reasons.

Kono accepts female-line emperor

Kono has doubled as minister in charge of novel coronavirus vaccination since January, playing a leading role in promoting vaccination. Japan is expected to boost its vaccination rate close to 60% or British and U.S. levels by the end of September. But vaccine supply has failed to meet demand, causing a confusion. Kono is partly responsible for the confusion. In response to Suga’s resignation announcement, Kono commented that he was insufficient as one of cabinet ministers supporting the prime minister. Why shouldn’t Kono make utmost efforts to expand vaccine supply along with Suga without running in the LDP presidential election.

The biggest reason for seeing Kono as inappropriate for the premiership is his attitude on imperial succession. In an Internet television program in August 2020, Kono noted that the male-line emperor should be maintained if possible, but indicated that Japan should consider accepting a female-line emperor. Asked to elaborate at a later press conference, Kono said the Japanese people should understand imperial succession crisis and should consider in an early stage how to manage the succession just in case. His attitude of tolerating a female-line emperor remains unchanged.

Kono seems to recognize himself as a conservative. In his new book titled “Nippon wo mae ni susumeru (Move Japan Forward)” (published by PHP Institute), he explains that conservatives are those who have steadfastly carried over Japanese language and the emperor system backed by Japan’s long history and cultures into the next generation while always adding new elements. The term “emperor system” is used not by conservatives but by the Japanese Communist Party (which describe this as “the system of emperor” in its platform). Kono’s wording offers a glimpse into his awareness of the imperial family.

Kono has also taken a negative attitude on a prime minister’s visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine dedicated to the war dead. When he ran in a LDP presidential election in September 2009, he said in a debate endorsed a proposal by then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama (from the Democratic Party of Japan) to build a national memorial in place of Yasukuni Shrine. “It might be the most natural that a national memorial would be created, visited by the emperor and the prime minister, and by foreign dignitaries including state guests,” he said. LDP members would never forget this Kono remark.

Kono explicitly opposes nuclear power plants

Finally regarding energy policy, Kono has made clear his opposition to nuclear power plants. In June 2018 when he was serving as foreign minister, he told the International Atomic Energy Agency that Japan would reduce plutonium stockpile. Tadashi Narabayashi, a specially appointed professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in a column on the JINF website criticized Kono for failing to see the entire picture of the situation. “The IAEA has qualified Japan’s reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel as fully complying with international rules.”

Junichiro Koizumi, when serving as prime minister, appointed Makiko Tanaka, then a highly popular politician, as foreign minister. But Tanaka plunged Japan’s diplomacy into a chaos and was fired by Koizumi. A foreign minister can be replaced any time. But a prime minister’s resignation leads to the resignation of entire cabinet. All LDP members should keep in mind that the LDP presidential election is not a beauty contest.

Takashi Arimoto is publisher of Monthly Magazine SEIRON at the Sankei Shimbun newspaper.