Prime Minister Taro Aso filled the key foreign and defense portfolios with hereditary Diet members, perhaps in the hope their prominent family names will serve the Liberal Democratic Party well in the looming Lower House election.
But the tandem of Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone and Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada will be facing imminent diplomatic issues, including winning an extension of the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling operations for antiterrorism efforts in the Indian Ocean.
The opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which holds a majority in the Upper House, has promised to fight extending the special law.
During their first news conferences, both Nakasone and Hamada reiterated the need to extend the mission.
“This is the role that Japan should continue to play,” Nakasone said. “The refueling mission must go on.”
Hamada said the stalemate in the Diet “is resulting in a difficult situation,” but the key is to spread understanding of the mission’s importance among the public.
“I am ready to give every effort” to ensure the law is extended, he said.
Nakasone, the eldest son of former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, has served as head of the Science and Technology Agency and minister of education.
During his stint at the education ministry, the Upper House member visited South Korea and began talks to include the Korean language as an optional subject in the national university entrance exams.
Asked if he would visit the contentious Yasukuni Shrine, Nakasone said he used to play there as a child.
But Cabinet members “must make the appropriate determination,” he said, signaling that he will refrain from visiting Yasukuni in his new position.
“As neighbors with a long history, the Japan-China bilateral relationship is extremely important,” he said. “I believe we should pursue a wide level of exchange.”
Hamada’s father, Koichi, is a retired Lower House member who appears frequently on TV as a political commentator.
This is Hamada’s first appointment to the Cabinet, but he served as the Defense Agency parliamentary vice minister under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
He was in that position when the Self-Defense Forces were sent to Iraq.
“Our priority is extending the special antiterrorism law,” Hamada said when asked if Japan should dispatch the SDF to mainland Afghanistan.
The Chiba Prefecture native, who was one of the 20 LDP lawmakers needed to endorse Aso’s candidacy for the party’s presidency, has supported revising the Constitution’s peace clause.
Komura looks back
Outgoing Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura expressed regret Wednesday that the Lower House and the opposition-led Upper House had reached a deadlock and lamented that the too frequent appointment of new foreign ministers is a hindrance to Japanese diplomacy.
“To have the face of the government change annually is not desirable,” Komura said.