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Kansai wary of new regional revitalization office’s effectiveness

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised that his new Cabinet, unveiled Wednesday, will place a high priority on the social and economic concerns of prefectural and other governments across the nation worried about depopulation and their widening economic gap with Tokyo.

But his appointment of political rival Shigeru Ishiba to the brand new post of minister in charge of regional revitalization has raised both hopes and concerns at the local level, since it is a new organization.

One key question is whether Ishiba and his new office will end up in a turf war with the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, which has traditionally dealt with some of the issues Ishiba is expected to handle.

In the Kansai region, leaders of the two main business groups cautiously welcomed the change in Ishiba’s position but wonder if it’s merely a short-term political ploy by Abe.

“The government has indicated that it is promoting the new office as a way to realize local revitalization. We hope it won’t end up being a transient organization that ends with next spring’s nationwide local elections, but that it will be a sustained effort afterward,” Sadao Kato, co-chair of the Kansai Association of Corporate Executives, said in a press release Wednesday evening.

Those prefectures facing depopulation and economic decline are especially anxious for Abe and Ishiba to act quickly and to incorporate their specific suggestions.

In early August, 13 rural governors called on Tokyo to create a system that makes it easy for firms and individuals to relocate to prefectures with good environments for raising children and to reduce taxes on local firms.

Hiroo Ogawa, a Tokyo-based freelance journalist who has written numerous books on prefectural, municipal and other governments and their relationships with Tokyo’s various ministries, said it isn’t clear how effective Ishiba or the new office will be.

“Traditionally, the kinds of issues Ishiba will deal with vis-a-vis local governments have been under the authority of the internal affairs ministry, which has a huge budget, lots of staff, and deep connections at the local level, whereas Ishiba’s office is just part of the Cabinet,” he said.

He added that the current internal affairs minister is Sanae Takaichi, who is particularly close to Abe, while Ishiba is Abe’s main rival. A power struggle between the two is quite possible because the ministry opposes the initiatives being taken by Ishiba and his new office, Ogawa said.

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