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The race is on to replace Suga, Japan’s lame-duck Prime Minister

“He was convalescing,and now has no particular health problems,” he said. “He is currently back in his political activities.”

Former prime minister Shinzo Abe retired last year due to health reasons.

Former prime minister Shinzo Abe retired last year due to health reasons. Credit:Bloomberg

This election might be too soon for the 66-year-old, but he has become more and more active in the past three weeks. He remains a standard-bearer for the LDP, and remains a unique Japanese political force – popular with party conservatives and the people.

Regardless of whether he is out in front or pulling the strings, he will have a significant role in deciding who leads the party.

What does this mean for Australia? Fundamentally, Tokyo’s foreign policy positions will remain unchanged under any of these candidates. Japan has become more responsive to the growing power of China in the region. It is now aligned with Australia on the approaches needed to manage its superpower neighbour, although it has historically maintained the relationship in a much more subtle way.

Japan’s calls for Australia to do more to build up support and networks among smaller economies, particularly in south-east Asia, will likely intensify behind closed doors.

Scott Morrison called Suga “Yoshi”. The pair got along – particularly after the Australian Prime Minister made his first overseas trip during the pandemic to Tokyo and copped two weeks of quarantine on his return. This was an important symbolic move by Morrison – it is still talked about in Tokyo – but that is not to say a similar rapport could not be struck with any of Suga’s replacements.

The two ministers with which Australia has the most direct contact with Kishi and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi are unlikely to change. Both Kono and Kishida have described China as a threat. On Thursday, Kishida told The Japan Times that Taiwan would be at “the front line of the next standoff between the US and China.”

“Looking at the situation with Hong Kong and the Uighurs, I have a strong feeling that the Taiwan Strait will be the next big problem,” he said.

But international alignment on the severity of those concerns may have to wait.

A Quad security meeting between Joe Biden, Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Suga scheduled for the end of September is now up in the air.

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Suga is likely to remain PM until September 29 when the LDP picks his replacement. The meeting was going to take place in person in Washington but having a lame-duck Japanese PM attend is less than ideal for the first in-person meeting of its kind.

The Japanese election is now not likely to occur until November, leaving open the possibility that the Quad leaders may not be able to meet until December or the new year.

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