Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono visited the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) at a momentous time. As Japan fights to stave off a second wave of coronavirus cases, the nation finds itself intense arms talks with its strongest ally and dwindling public support for its top leadership.
Taro Kono’s surprise decision this month to halt deployment of the U.S.-made Aegis Ashore defense stations rattled diplomatic and military relations between the allies, as have revelations in former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton’s new memoir that President Donald Trump has demanded that Japan pay $8 billion per year for costs associated with hosting American troops — or risk their withdrawal.
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Meanwhile, recent polls have shown support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe‘s Cabinet near record lows following a scandal involving a former justice minister. That’s stoked speculation Abe will step down before the end of his term next year, with Kono seen as a candidate for the job.
Kono is an eight-term member of the House of Representatives representing Kanagawa and has served as Minister of Defense since September 11, 2019. A graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, Kono has a reputation as a reformer with extensive Washington connections. His visit to the FCCJ will be the first by a member of Abe’s cabinet since 2014.