Japanese PM’s rival Kishida urges coronavirus stimulus package

Japanese PM’s rival Kishida urges coronavirus stimulus package

TOKYO, Sept 2 (Reuters) – Japan’s former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, who is challenging Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as ruling party chief, said on Thursday an economic stimulus package worth “tens of trillions of yen” was needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Kishida also said Japan must maintain ultra-low interest rates to support the pandemic-hit economy, offering the clearest sign to date that expansionary fiscal and monetary policies would remain in place if he replaced Suga.

The winner of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership race is all but assured to become premier given the party’s majority in parliament’s powerful lower chamber.

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“Many countries are signalling that they will maintain expansionary fiscal and monetary policy steps for the time being. Japan must not fall behind,” he told a news conference, shifting away from his prior remarks signalling the need to dial back the Bank of Japan’s ultra-loose policy.

Kishida also said that as party chief, he would aim to bring socio-economic activities back to near normalcy by early 2022, criticising the current handling of the pandemic as too little and too slow.

Kishida said the stimulus package must be compiled “swiftly” and include cash payments to non-permanent workers and others who will be affected by steps to contain the flow of people.

The party leader contest is slated for Sept. 29, and the government is considering a plan to hold the general election on Oct. 17.

‘WORST-CASE SCENARIO’

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Late on Wednesday, Japan’s minister for digital transformation became the first serving cabinet member to openly back Kishida.

The move marked another turn in the rollercoaster week that saw the unpopular Suga come to the brink of calling a snap election on Tuesday night, only to deny the reports by Wednesday morning after party grandees, including his powerful predecessor Shinzo Abe, intervened to stop him.

In a series of manoeuvres to cling on to his job, Suga is set to remove his unpopular long-term ally Toshihiro Nikai from a key LDP post. It is a part of a reshuffle expected next week that will likely bring several high-profile names to both party executive positions and Suga’s cabinet as the premier strives to shore up his support.

Kishida said Suga’s coronavirus policies were fragmented and piecemeal and said the government should move with urgency.

“In crisis management, being more thorough in assuming the worst-case scenario, rather than believing enough has been done, is necessary,” he said.

Kishida laid out plans to set up a new government agency overseeing health crisis management, complete vaccinations by November, and to provide government aid for the development of oral drugs for COVID-19 treatment.

“I would have legislation revised so state and local governments have strong authority to curb people’s movement and secure medical resources,” Kishida said.

When launching his candidacy last week, he said he wanted to reduce income gaps and support the economically vulnerable such as workers in insecure jobs and women, in contrast with Suga, who has stressed self-reliance before public support.

“Suga has been focused on helping businesses, such as aids for corporate loans. Kishida, by contrast, emphasises support for household income rather than companies,” said Daiju Aoki, chief Japan economist at UBS SuMi TRUST Wealth Management. “While both are calling for expansionary fiscal policies, this point is clearly different.”

The low-key Kishida, 64, has ranked poorly in surveys of voters’ preferred next premier, but the head of an LDP faction is now viewed as a promising rallying point for lawmakers seeking a new leader ahead of the lower house election.

Suga, 72, took office last September with support of about 70% but his ratings have sunk to record lows below 30% as Japan battles its worst wave of COVID-19 infections and many of his LDP lawmakers fear for their seats.

U.S. climate envoy Kerry urges China to keep politics out of global warming

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SHANGHAI, Sept 2 (Reuters) – U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told Chinese leaders that climate change was more important than politics, he said on Thursday, responding to warnings that diplomatic tensions between the two countries could undermine cooperation on cutting emissions.

“My response to them was, look, climate is not ideological, not partisan, and not a geostrategic weapon,” Kerry told reporters after two days of talks with his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua in the northern city of Tianjin. read more

The United States, which has resumed its role in global climate diplomacy after a four-year hiatus under President Donald Trump, has long hoped to keep climate issues separate from its disputes with China on issues such as trade, human rights and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas China believes they should be linked.

China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Kerry that the United States saw the two sides’ joint efforts against global warming as an “oasis”, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“But surrounding the oasis is a desert, and the oasis could be desertified very soon,” he said, speaking by video link on Wednesday. “China-U.S. climate co-operation cannot be separated from the wider environment of China-U.S. relations.

Kerry told Wang that Washington wanted China to do more on climate, a State Department spokesperson said.

“Secretary Kerry affirmed that the United States remains committed to co-operating with the world to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands, and encouraged the PRC to take additional steps to reduce emissions,” the spokesperson said.

In a separate video meeting with Kerry, Chinese vice premier Han Zheng urged the United States to “create a good atmosphere of co-operation”, state news agency Xinhua said on Thursday, adding that Kerry responded that the United States was willing to improve communications between the two countries.

CLIMATE ACTIVISTS HOPE FOR MORE

Climate watchers hope the talks will bring more ambitious pledges from both countries to fight greenhouse gas emissions.

“The G2 (China and the United States) need to realise that beyond their bilateral oasis and desert, the whole planet is at stake,” said Li Shuo, a senior climate adviser with environmental group Greenpeace.

“If they don’t make joint climate progress fast enough, it is soon all going to be desert.”

The Tianjin meeting is the second between Kerry and Xie, following one in April in Shanghai. Kerry’s remit is limited to climate change issues.

Though Wang warned that climate change could now be tied to other diplomatic issues, China has said its efforts to cut emissions and adopt cleaner forms of energy are vital to its ambitious domestic agenda.

“Chinese leaders have long said they are engaged in climate action not because of outside pressure, but because it benefits China and the world at large,” said Alex Wang, a climate expert and professor at UCLA.

“If that is so, then U.S.-China tensions should not slow Chinese climate action.”

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