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One Year On, Japan Foreign Min. Kono Boosting Presence

August 8, 2018

Tokyo- With one year having passed since he took office, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono has been boosting his presence as a possible major candidate to be chief of the nation's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and prime minister, to succeed Shinzo Abe, thanks to his robust diplomatic activities.

"I think my efforts are starting to bear fruit at least somewhat as I've felt a need to build relationships of trust with foreign ministers of other countries," he told reporters last Thursday, during his trip to Singapore, where he attended a series of regional meetings.

Kono took up the post on Aug. 3, last year, in a shake-up of the cabinet of Prime Minister Abe and has since traveled abroad almost every month.

Specifically, he has made trips to a total of 59 countries and regions, including those visited by a Japanese foreign minister for the first time. The frequency of his overseas travel is higher compared with that of his predecessor, Fumio Kishida, who visited a total of 93 countries and regions during his tenure of four years and eight months as foreign minister.

Fluent in English, Kono often holds talks with foreign dignitaries without an interpreter. Kono's English skills are "one of the best" among those who have served as foreign ministers of Japan, a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

Prompting Kono to go abroad so frequently is China's rapidly growing presence on the international arena. Repeatedly noting that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is visiting foreign countries more frequently, Kono says, "It's undesirable for the gap to be left unattended."

Meanwhile, Kono complained earlier this year that the foreign minister's overseas trips are restricted while the Diet, Japan's parliament, is in session, calling for a review of parliamentary procedures in light of this. In response, the opposition camp criticized him for making light of the Diet.

Kono, 55, has made clear his intention to run for LDP presidency in the future.

Whether Kono can achieve remarkable results on the diplomatic front at a time when circumstances surrounding Japan, including the situation in North Korea, are rapidly changing will be a crucial test for him to be recognized as a candidate for a future prime minister of Japan, political watchers said. Jiji Press