India is hoping that under PM Suga, Japan will not steer away from the course set by Abe
Less than a month after his sudden announcement that he would step down due to health reasons, Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, 65, has passed on the baton to his long-term associate, Yoshihide Suga, 71. Mr. Suga promises continuity rather than change as he takes the reins. His choice is itself an indicator of that continuity: he has been Chief Cabinet Secretary since 2012, as well as the top spokesperson and a key implementer of Mr. Abe’s policies. An elected MP since 1996, Mr. Suga was Minister of State for Internal Affairs and Communications during Mr. Abe’s previous tenure in 2006-07. In his press conference after winning the leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party this week, Mr. Suga said his goal is to continue with Mr. Abe’s policies and complete his goals, particularly the tasks of reviving the economy and controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also retained Mr. Abe’s key cabinet choices which include the Finance, Foreign and Environment Ministers. Despite his best intentions to stay the course, he has taken charge at a crucial moment in a rapidly changing world and will need to steer through the outcome of the U.S. elections in November, China’s growing aggressiveness, and a worldwide economic downturn. A main challenge will be to ensure the success of the Tokyo Olympics, now rescheduled for July 2021 due to the pandemic.
For India, Mr. Abe’s exit is a loss, given his game-changing moves on India-Japan ties, which included upgrading the relationship to a Special Strategic and Global Partnership, instituting the annual Prime Ministerial summits from 2006, spearheading both versions of the Quadrilateral with the U.S. and Australia, and personally moving the India-Japan civil nuclear partnership through the Diet (parliament), Japan’s first with a non-NPT country. One of his last meetings as Prime Minister was a telephonic summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, announcing the signing of the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, a significant step in defence cooperation. His close personal relationship with Mr. Modi, both seen as “strongmen” leaders, built on his earlier partnership with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, with whom he shared his famous “three arrows” economic strategy called ‘Abenomics’. Mr. Suga would be well aware of the big shoes he must fill and the importance of the relationship with India for Japan. It is significant that one of the new government’s first engagements is likely to be the Foreign Minister-level meeting of the Quad countries in Tokyo next month, which will also give New Delhi insight into how much has changed and how much will stay the same in Japan’s view of the world with the change at the helm.