Kishida's greatest challenges may still lie ahead

This month marks two years since Kishida Fumio became Japan's prime minister. To gauge how he's been received abroad and evaluate the challenges that lie ahead, we spoke with Joshua Walker. He leads the Japan Society, a nonprofit organization that connects Japanese culture and business with New York and beyond.

Joshua Walker is president of the Japan Society.

Since becoming prime minister, Kishida has been dealing with an increasingly challenging security environment around Japan, inflation and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Now suddenly Kishida is contending with the Israel-Hamas conflict. Walker says, "I think that Japan is in a really unique situation. It has condemned Hamas and it's supportive of Israel, but it hasn't go as far as America and certain European countries. If this becomes a war between terrorism and a democratic state, Japan has to make a choice."

Choices that affect international relations are something Kishida understands firsthand, having served as foreign minister for nearly five years in the Abe administration.

As prime minister, Kishida made a historic choice in deciding to increase Japan's defense spending to 2 percent of GDP.

Walker welcomes Kishida's move, pointing out that Prime Minister Abe Shinzo was never able to achieve the 2% threshold.

He praises Kishida's ability to effectively lead from behind, but adds, "When it comes to balancing issues like Israel and Russia, Americans expect an even stronger, more personality driven politician — which is not what Kishida represents."

Kishida appears to be connecting well with one key American: President Joe Biden. But Walker says the relationship between Kishida and Biden is still "not at the same level as the friendly relationships between Reagan and Nakasone, George Bush and Koizumi, and Abe and Donald Trump."

He attributes this in part to Kishida's personality. "He doesn't allow anyone to be too close, but he uses "Joe" when he talks to President Biden, and President Biden feels very comfortable with Prime Minister Kishida."

Walker says, "When it comes to policy, we've never seen a closer Japan-US relationship, but when it comes to personal chemistry, I think it's a different question."

Asked what he think about the possibility of a contingency in Taiwan, Walker says, "There is already a war in Ukraine and a war in Israel. The last thing the world needs is a war over Taiwan."

Walker believes China will handle the Taiwan issue more carefully than Russia handled Ukraine. He says, "I think if China launched an armed attack on Taiwan, in the same way that Russia launched attack on Ukraine, it would mean war because there's no way that America could sit back and allow Taiwan to be attacked directly."

But if war does break out over Taiwan, Walker says, "I think the main thing that Japan can do is to be supportive and assume a defensive posture."

Next year the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will provide perhaps Kishida's next big test — a leadership election.

Watch video 3:34