Kishida opens rush for diplomacy as Japan prepares for divisive funeral

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TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday held a series of meetings with foreign dignitaries as part of what he calls “funeral diplomacy” a day before hosting a controversial state-sponsored ceremony to former leader Shinzo Abe.

Kishida has been criticized for pushing for Tuesday’s official state funeral for Abe, who was assassinated in July, amid questions about their ruling party’s close ties to the Unification Church, which is accused of washing the brains of its adherents, and doubts about the legitimacy of a state event with ties to pre-war Imperial Japan.

Kishida says the honor is befitting of the longest-serving leader in modern Japanese political history. He also said it would allow him to meet visiting foreign leaders personally and forge stronger ties at a time when Japan faces a host of pressing issues in Northeast Asia and around the world, threats Chinese and North Korean militaries to concerns about regional economic and security issues.

In a rush for scheduled meetings, Kishida is due to meet with around 40 foreign dignitaries over the next few days at the Akasaka State guesthouse in Tokyo.

Kishida met on Monday with US Vice President Kamala Harris, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte and a dozen other foreign dignitaries.

On Tuesday, he is due to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

China, an at times harsh critic of what it saw as conservative Abe’s moves to expand Japan’s military and bleaching history, will send former science and technology minister Wan Gang, whose title is politically neutral enough to raise some eyebrows. He is also the head of China’s Zhiong Party, one of eight landmark bodies tasked with advising the ruling Communist Party and giving China the veneer of a multi-party system.

Wan is also a prominent member of the legislature’s toothless advisory body, with a specialty in the automotive industry. Wan is not known to have had any ties to Japan, the Japanese parliament, or the Abe family.

Other leaders of the Group of Seven countries and many others who attended Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London last week will not be at Abe’s funeral. South Korea is sending Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, who is due to meet Kishida on Wednesday.

Political observers say holding a state funeral for Abe is an attempt by Kishida to stabilize his grip on power by appeasing lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party belonging to Abe’s conservative political faction.

Security around the Budokan martial arts arena, where the memorial will be held on Tuesday, has been raised to high levels, with uniformed police patrolling the area and stopping cars for inspections.

Travel on roads around the Budokan and the Akasaka guesthouse will be restricted until Wednesday, including around 10 a.m. Tuesday, according to Tokyo police.

Police security has come under scrutiny after police forces were accused of failing to provide adequate protection for Abe when he was killed. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters on Monday that police had stepped up information gathering, analysis and protective measures ahead of the funeral.

“We will do everything possible for safety and take all necessary measures to be able to respond to any situation,” Matsuno said.

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