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Suga, Abe's likely successor, stresses US-Japan alliance as key

Japan's Liberal Democratic Party's leadership election candidate, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, speaks during a debate ahead of the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) leadership election on Sept. 12, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.

(CHARLY TRIBALLEAU, POOL, GETTY IMAGES/TNS

By JON HERSKOVITZ AND FINBARR FLYNN | Bloomberg News | Published: September 13, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — Yoshihide Suga, the front-runner to become Japan's next premier, emphasized the importance of the nation's alliance with the U.S. for the country's foreign policy.

"With the U.S.-Japan alliance at the foundation, it is important for Japan to get along with other Asian nations," Suga said in a debate in Tokyo on Saturday at the Japan National Press Club. While Japan faces difficulties in its relations with China and South Korea, Suga said he would seek to pursue "strategic" relations with both nations through communication.

The debate was the last formal Liberal Democratic Party event where all three candidates share the stage to discuss their policy priorities before it holds a party vote Monday to replace Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as party leader. Abe said in late August he was stepping down for health reasons.

The LDP, which has ruled the country for 60 of the last 65 years, is expected to use its majorities in parliament to install its new leader as prime minister on Wednesday. Then attention will be focused on the people he chooses for his Cabinet.

"Continuity is what's important in diplomacy," Suga said when asked how closely he would follow the Abe administration's style of foreign policy.

He stressed that he'd been in the room for almost all of Abe's many phone calls with U.S. President Donald Trump, and bristled at the suggestion that just sitting in on the call might not count as diplomatic experience. "When it comes to making decisions as a nation, I've been involved in all of it," Suga said.

Japan, whose own military is restricted by a pacifist constitution drafted by the U.S. after World War II, relies heavily on America's troops and nuclear weapons for deterrence against growing threats from North Korea and an increasingly powerful China. Thousands of U.S. military personnel are stationed in Japan.

The LDP, which has ruled the country for 60 of the last 65 years, is expected to use its majorities in parliament to install its new leader as prime minister on Wednesday. Then attention will be focused on the people he chooses for his Cabinet.

Even before Suga declared his candidacy on Sept. 2, he had the backing of five of the seven factions and enough votes lined up for him to win. The only factions that didn't back him were the ones led by the other contenders, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, with 19 members, and ex-Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, with 47 members.

Suga has pledged to continue the signature ultra-easy monetary policy of the current premier dubbed "Abenomics." He added that more should be done on monetary policy, if needed, to protect jobs and companies during the current virus crisis.

Any sign of a departure from the path of Abenomics could send the yen surging and stocks sliding, triggering a re-evaluation of the outlook for the nation. One of the first key economic decisions of the new premier will be the timing of a switch to stimulating a return to growth rather than focusing on life-support aid for businesses and households hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Suga on Friday appeared to backtrack from earlier comments about the sales tax and align himself with Abe, saying there is no need for another hike in the next decade. Suga emphasized that position on Saturday, saying he isn't considering a sales tax increase in the next decade, but that it shouldn't be ruled out thereafter.

Abe, Suga's longtime boss, raised the sales in 2014 and again last October to 10%.

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