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Sep 16, 2020
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Change of prime minister

Will Yoshihide Suga become an independent leader or become an alter ego Shinzo Abe

So, as expected, the now former General Secretary of the Cabinet of Ministers Yoshihide Suga became the 64th Prime Minister of Japan. And Suga himself, I believe, two months ago did not see himself on the Olympus of the political power of the Land of the Rising Sun, for he was used to being the executor of the will of his superiors. He also lacks the charisma that Shinzo Abe possesses. According to the popularity rating, Suga was noticeably inferior at the stage of the struggle for leadership to the former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who was stubbornly striving for supreme power.

Not being, like most Japanese prime ministers, a descendant of the families of hereditary politicians in the second, third, fourth generations, Suga, as they say, made himself. He comes from a family of farmers who grew strawberries in the agricultural prefecture of Akita, and himself, earning money, provided payment for his studies at the prestigious Hosei University. Then, with diligent work and diligence, he won the trust of the leading figures of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), who nominated a promising functionary in 1996 to parliament and then to government. Sugi's political advancement was primarily due to the patronage of Shinzo Abe. In Abe's first cabinet, which existed for about a year, he was entrusted with the post of Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Returning to the leadership of the country in 2012, Abe appointed Suga to the key post of the General Secretary of the Cabinet of Ministers, in which he survived all the changes in the composition of the government until his election as Prime Minister of Japan.

Like any major politician, Abe is interested in the successor to continue the chosen course. Moreover, this course has not been fully implemented and requires persistence in its implementation. It is very likely that Abe needs a new prime minister who will not break the line in politics, but will continue to build it taking into account the recommendations of the former prime minister who remains the patron. In Japan, such loyalty that lasts until the end is called "giri ninjo" - a sense of duty and gratitude. This is a moral obligation that sometimes prompts a person to do something against his will or against his own benefit.

Suga understands very well that he was appointed prime minister not by the party and the LDP deputies, but by Abe personally. And there can be no doubt that there should be no significant changes in economic policy, which has received the pretentious name of "abenomics", as well as in the foreign policy course, not agreed with the patron.

At the same time, Abe is interested that the Sugi cabinet is not considered by the people and abroad as intermediate or technical. And such assessments have already been expressed: they say, the term of the new prime minister is limited to one year, after which at the end of September 2021 the next elections of the new chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party, and hence the prime minister, will be held, but for a three-year term. If Abe wants Sugi to stay in power for a long time, he needs to take care to avoid the impression of being dependent on him.

In the meantime, Suga says bluntly that no changes in policy are expected and even the previous composition of the Cabinet of Ministers will be preserved, which is unusual.

We are, of course, interested in how Suga-san will build a policy towards Russia and whether in his course there will be any new nuances affecting the interests of our country. The author of these lines has already expressed the opinion that the “freezing” of Japanese-Russian relations predicted by some observers will not occur. For the simple reason that Japan needs Russia in international politics no less than Russia needs Japan. Moreover, in all spheres - political, economic, military-strategic.

Of course, one should not expect such a frequency of high-level meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as was the case under Abe. Apparently, the relations between the two leaders will be more formal, without the sometimes jarring appeals during official negotiations on "you" and by name. As for territorial disputes, public opinion polls show that Japan has understood that at present and in the near future, the Russian leadership will not make territorial concessions. Without this, the formal peace treaty for Tokyo loses its meaning. For the state of war ended long ago, and all the problems of the post-war settlement, including border demarcation, were resolved in the 1956 Joint Declaration.

I noticed that Suga spoke very cautiously on the "problem of the northern territories" already as a candidate for prime minister. Noting that he would like to continue the dialogue with Russia on this topic, he said: "With regard to the issue of the northern territories, I intend to continue the dialogue to clarify the issue of the ownership of the four islands."... This restraint contrasts with the behavior of his rival in the election of LDP chairman Shigeru Ishiba, who repeats the slogans of the Japanese far-right that the Kuril Islands are "illegally occupied northern territories of Japan." Moreover, he made an absurd proposal to establish "Japanese municipalities" on the Russian islands.

In general, Suga will not be able to change the vector of Japanese policy on the issue of claims to the Kuril Islands. Nor will they allow him to lower the bar of claims to the level of Khrushchev's "compromise", who in the 1950s allowed the transfer of the Shikotan Islands and the Ploskie island group, in Japanese, Habomai, to Japan in the form of a gesture of goodwill. Much in this matter will depend on the Russian government, which, it seems, is not inclined to continue empty "negotiations on the Kuril Islands." I would like to believe that the new Japanese prime minister is aware of this and will not succumb to the temptations of unscrupulous advisers who are convinced that allegedly "Putin left the opportunity to surrender the islands through border demarcation."

Well, humanly, we congratulate Sugu-san on his election to a high post and wish him successful work in this difficult time.

Cover photo: REUTERS / Thomas Peter

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