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Japan PM Kishida vows to strengthen Quad alliance and China ties

Leader also calls for distributing wealth in worker-friendly 'new capitalism'

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida tells parliament he will protect the middle class and make bold investments to slow climate change on Oct. 8. (Photo by Arisa Moriyama)

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday voiced his determination to strengthen the Quad alliance -- a bloc to counter Chinese assertiveness that also includes the U.S., Australia and India -- while also stabilizing relations with China.

In his first policy speech, Kishida, who was elected as the nation's 100th prime minister on Monday, pledged to "strongly promote a free and open Indo-Pacific by cooperating with allies" and through the Quad. He also emphasized that "at the core of our country's foreign and security policies is the Japan-U.S. alliance."

Kishida acknowledged that Japan seeks stable ties with China, the world's No. 2 economy, behind the U.S.

Japan will "continue its dialogues and cooperate on mutual challenges with China," Kishida said.

His government, he said, will not hesitate to call on China to act responsibly, though he did not specify any particular issue.

Kishida also said he will update Japan's national security strategy, established in 2013 by then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This will entail ramping up coastal security and missile defense capabilities.

Kishida condemned North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and missiles that can deliver them. He also said he wishes to meet Kim Jong Un, the country's leader, to address issues of Japanese abductees.

On the economic front, Kishida reiterated his call for a "new capitalism" to protect the middle class. He promised bold investments toward slowing climate change and tackling other global crises. He also spoke of ending the country's prolonged inflation drought.

Kishida said the government will set up a 10 trillion-yen ($89.3 billion) university fund this fiscal year and promote research into advanced technologies, including in the fields of space, quantum computing and environmental preservation.

He talked of coming up with a clean energy strategy to "make global warming measures contribute to growth."

Kishida said he would promote "bold monetary policy, agile fiscal policy [and] make the necessary financial expenditures to deal with crises without hesitation."

He specified no new revenue-generating measures to enable such spending.

While Kishida mentioned the 2050 carbon neutrality target announced by his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, he said nothing about maintaining Suga's nearer-term green commitments, such as the 2030 target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 46% from 2013 levels. He also did not venture into the debate of whether Japan should phase out nuclear power.

Kishida said he would "build a strong supply chain and draft a bill for promoting economic security."

Economic growth could also come from bringing next-generation 5G telecommunication speeds to rural areas.

The 64-year-old said wealth distribution will be key to his economic strategy. He promised a new insurance scheme for all workers regardless of their contract status (Japan's workforce includes armies of temporary workers), and to ensure that companies benefit not only their shareholders but their employees and suppliers.

Kishida also said he would boost government support for education costs and increase wages for nurses, elderly caregivers and workers in other industries that have been consistently short of staff.

Regarding the novel coronavirus, Kishida said he will ensure that all Japan residents who want to be vaccinated have access to shots, including booster doses.

The prime minister might be in position to benefit from Japan's improved COVID-19 situation as lower house elections are scheduled for Oct. 31. Japan's daily infection numbers have been on the wane since peaking in August, and a state of emergency that called for restricting movements and social gatherings in Tokyo and other parts of Japan was lifted at the end of September.

The Nikkei Stock Average closed at 28,048.94 yen, up 1.34% from the previous day. However, it dipped 0.4% during the last trading hour after Kishida started his speech at 2 p.m.

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