TOKYO – This year will be a year that will test Japan’s diplomatic courage, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a political speech on Monday (January 17th), in a nod to the delicate balancing act he faces between the United States and China.
Kishida’s speech at the start of the Diet’s regular session comes ahead of his talks with US President Joe Biden on Friday at a virtual summit where China and North Korea are likely to be on the agenda.
“Japanese diplomacy must be based on ‘new era realism,'” he said during his 40-minute address, citing the need to emphasize values such as human rights. and the rule of law, while proactively addressing global challenges such as climate change. and health care, and to protect Japan’s national interests.
“We will affirm what we must affirm and urge China to act responsibly,” he said. “But at the same time, we will dialogue and cooperate on common issues, and aim to build a constructive and stable relationship.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Asia’s two biggest economic superpowers.
Yet that step is overshadowed by growing fears in Japan over an assertive China and the prospect of an eventuality in Taiwan where Japan’s southwestern island chain is likely to be the main theater of battle.
Mr Kishida said the country would continue to fortify its defenses on the islands, known as Nansei in Japanese, which stretch about 1,200 km southwest of Cape Sata – the southernmost tip of the continent – in Yonaguni, only 110 km from Taiwan.
He also condemned North Korea’s repeated missile launches and marked improvement in technology. Monday’s launch was Pyongyang’s fourth this year, in an unusually fast testing streak.
Mr. Kishida pledged to consider all options, including the so-called pre-emptive strike capability on enemy bases in the event of an imminent threat.
Much of his speech, however, was national as he sought to allay fears over Covid-19 and tepid growth, ahead of an Upper House election in July.
“I hear the voices of people saying they’re already at their limits,” he said. “But we must recognize that the invisible enemy of Covid-19 is much more formidable than expected.”
He reiterated his lodestar to always prepare for the worst. While most of Omicron’s cases appear to have mild or no symptoms, he fears a scenario in which severe cases increase in absolute numbers – even if proportionately low – and overwhelm hospitals.
Mr Kishida outlined plans such as expanding free Covid-19 testing, securing more doses of oral medicine, as well as setting up large-scale inoculation sites run by the Armed Forces. self-defense.