Koizumi forms new Cabinet to push reforms

Machimura replaces Kawaguchi; Hosoda, Takenaka retained

Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Reports

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi formed a new 18-member Cabinet on Monday, appointing former education minister Nobutaka Machimura to succeed Yoriko Kawaguchi as foreign minister and replacing 10 others, with mostly newcomers as state ministers.

But Koizumi retained Hiroyuki Hosoda as chief Cabinet secretary, Sadakazu Tanigaki as finance minister, Heizo Takenaka as economic and fiscal policy minister, and Taro Aso as internal affairs and communications minister, whose jurisdiction covers postal operations.

To press ahead with his key reform initiative, Koizumi assigned Takenaka to concurrently fill the newly created post of postal reform minister, while making him give up the financial services portfolio to 43-year-old Tatsuya Ito, who was senior vice minister in charge of financial services as well as fiscal and economic policy.

Takenaka told reporters the government will forge a specific system and make legal changes for postal reforms in accordance with the basic plan adopted by the Cabinet earlier this month that calls for splitting Japan Post into four companies at the start of a 10-year privatization process in April 2007.

Many lawmakers within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party remain opposed to the plan.

But Takenaka vowed that he would keep close contact with LDP lawmakers in the process of making the legal changes for the reforms.

Koizumi’s new Cabinet lineup reflects the great importance he attaches to his postal privatization drive. This is the third Cabinet reshuffle since he took office in April 2001.

Many LDP lawmakers prefer leaving the reforms up to Japan Post, which was set up in April 2003 to take over mail delivery, postal savings and the “kampo” life insurance.

In his comments to reporters, Aso also cited postal reform as one of the main items on his agenda. He ruled out government subsidies for Japan Post after the privatization starts in 2007, while suggesting special consideration should be given to ensure job security for its employees, who currently have civil servant status.

Ito, the new financial services minister, said he has been instructed by Koizumi to put an end to the bad-loan problems in the nation’s banking sector. Speaking to reporters, he pledged to make efforts to facilitate smooth financing for regional economies and small companies.

Machimura, the new foreign minister, expressed discontent over the way North Korea has dealt with the issue of the Japanese nationals it abducted in the 1970s and 80s, including the progress of a fresh investigation into 10 still unaccounted for.

“Frankly speaking, I don’t think North Korea is addressing the abduction issue in a fully sincere manner,” Machimura told reporters after being appointed to the key post. “Discontent and irritation are spreading among the public over the fact that the investigation” is not seeing progress, he claimed.

Machimura said he does not believe the fruitless outcome of bilateral talks over the weekend would immediately prompt Japan to impose economic sanctions on the reclusive state.

But Machimura, who earlier served as parliamentary vice foreign minister, maintained that Japan’s ability to impose sanctions remains a tool to pressure North Korea.

Koizumi named Yoshinori Ono to take over from Shigeru Ishiba as director general of the Defense Agency.

Ono echoed his predecessor’s view that Japan should review its self-imposed ban on arms export to develop advanced defense capabilities.

“When we think about defense capabilities that require highly advanced technology, such as ballistic missile defense, it is very important to cooperate and research with (other nations), which of course involves the issue of the cost of weapons,” he said. “We must discuss a review of this principle.”

Kawaguchi will become a special adviser on foreign affairs for Koizumi, while Taku Yamasaki, Koizumi’s longtime ally, who lost his seat in the House of Representatives election last November, will become a special adviser with an as yet undecided agenda, Hosoda said.

Among the ministers retained, Aso will double as minister in charge of sports, and Environment Minister Yuriko Koike will double as minister in charge of Okinawa and issues pertaining to the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

From the House of Councilors, Chieko Noono was picked as justice minister and Hidehisa Otsuji as health, labor and welfare minister.

Kazuo Kitagawa, policy chief of the LDP’s coalition partner, New Komeito, was named land, infrastructure and transport minister.

Among the new ministers, nine were given Cabinet posts for the first time. The two others are Machimura and one-time farm minister Yoshinobu Shimamura, who was given a second stint at that post.

Koike and Noono are the only female Cabinet ministers, and there are no ministers who do not hold a Diet seat.

Nariaki Nakayama was picked as education, culture, sports, science and technology minister; Yoshitaka Murata as chairman of the National Public Safety Commission; Seiichiro Murakami as minister in charge of administrative reform; and 41-year-old Yasufumi Tanahashi as minister in charge of science and technology.

Since forming his first Cabinet three years and five months ago, Koizumi has broken away from the old practice of appointing ministers based on a list of candidates nominated by the major LDP factions.