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New Japan PM Kishida skeptical China will qualify to join CPTPP

Leader calls for stronger missile defense in first news conference

Japan's newly-elected Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters at his official residence in Tokyo Oct. 4. (Photo by Kai Fujii)

TOKYO -- Newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed skepticism about China's qualification to join the CPTPP trade pact at his first press conference Monday, noting the bloc's tough free trade requirements.

Kishida, who was formally elected prime minister that day, also stressed the need to improve missile defense for Japan.

Regarding China's application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, he said, "we need to look at whether China can meet the high standards required by the trade pact." 

"It's still unclear if it can," he added.

Kishida noted that China was using force to shift the status quo in the region. "It is important to say what we need to say to China in coordination with allies and partners with whom we share fundamental values," he said.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday congratulated Kishida on his election. "The U.S.-Japan Alliance is the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the world, and I look forward to working closely with Prime Minister Kishida to strengthen our cooperation in the months and years ahead," he said.

Kishida will speak with Biden over the phone as early as Tuesday, in what is expected to be his first conversation with a global leader since taking office. They will affirm the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance and exchange ideas on ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific. The leaders are also expected to discuss national security concerns in light of recent developments, including China.

On foreign policy, Kishida laid out three principles: protecting universal values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law; strengthening Japan's defense; and taking the lead in tackling global issues such as climate change and the free flow of data.

On strengthening Japan's security, the prime minister specifically mentioned missile defense. "To defend our territory, seas, airspace, as well as the lives and assets of our people, I am determined to strengthen the defense of Japan, including missile defense, and bolster maritime security capabilities," he said.

The reference to missile deterrence is seen as a nod to the upcoming two-plus-two security negotiations with the U.S. secretaries of state and defense, during which the U.S. is expected to propose basing intermediate-range missiles in Japan to deter Chinese actions in the Taiwan Strait.

"I will engage in foreign policy and national security challenges with resolve, drawing on the Japan-U.S. alliance and the world's trust in Japan," Kishida said.

Kishida also said he is prepared to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without preconditions. He called the resolution of the abduction issue -- the North's kidnapping of Japanese in the 1970s and '80s -- a top priority of the government.

On economic policy, Kishida promised that his cabinet will work together to distribute wealth widely among the people.

"I aim to create a new form of capitalism, and present a new socioeconomic vision to pave the way for Japan's future," he said.

The leader said he will set up a new team to lay out a post-pandemic social and economic vision for Japan. "We will create a positive cycle of growth and distribution to create an economy where people can prosper," he pledged.

Kishida said the government should consider tax reform, in particular changing the current rules that grant lower effective tax rates to those earning 100 million yen ($900,000) or more.

He also listed a slew of other policies to foster economic growth, including promoting technological advancements, narrowing income gaps between urban and nonurban areas through digitization, protecting Japan's economic security and creating social welfare and tax systems that are fair to all work styles.

Kishida said he will dissolve the lower house on Oct. 14 for an election on Oct. 31, seeking a fresh popular mandate as he takes the country's reins.

"I want the Japanese people to decide before anything else whether they believe in me, and, if possible, to tap that confidence to advance a politics of trust and compassion," he said.

"I set the timeline in hopes of tackling daring coronavirus and economic measures with the public's support," Kishida said. Slowing case numbers in Japan contributed to his decision.

Regarding the Group of 20 summit and the United Nations COP26 climate change summit, which are scheduled around the time of the election, Kishida said he will be able to take part in discussions through remote and other technologies. "I hope to make Japan's presence felt," he said.

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