Suga is new Japan premier

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TOKYO – Japan has a new prime minister in the person of 71-year-old Yoshihide Suga, who was recently voted as Japan’s new leader by the Japanese parliament’s Lower House.

Suga will be Japan’s first new leader in nearly eight years. The newly installed premier promised that he is already preparing what he called a “continuity cabinet” that will keep around half of former premier Shinzo Abe’s cabinet.

Abe is Japan’s longest-serving premier, who served nearly eight years as the country’s top leader. He resigned recently, citing health reasons.

Suga was Abe’s chief cabinet secretary and acknowledged right-hand man for so many years. He averred that he will continue many of his predecessor’s programs, which many called the “Abenomics” economic strategy, and pledged to move ahead with structural reforms, deregulation and streamlining of the bureaucracy.

Winning 314 votes out of a possible 462, Suga’s determination and leadership qualities will be severely tested by several challenges that confront the country, including the COVID-19 pandemic and how to revive Japan’s battered economy and concerns about its rapidly aging society.

In terms of Japan’s foreign relations issues, Suga, who has little direct diplomatic experience, is also faced with the US-China confrontation that’s intensifying more than ever, how to build ties with the winner of the next US presidential election, and also keep Japan’s own relations with Beijing on track.

Key players in the Abe cabinet are expected to be retained, including Finance Minister Taro Aso and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, together with Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto and Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, the youngest cabinet member at 39.

Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s younger brother, will likely head the defense department while outgoing Defense Minister Taro Kono will take care of administrative reform.

Former premier Abe’s main man on COVID-19 response, Yasutoshi Nishimura, will still be economy minister, while Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama will keep his post.

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