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In Cabinet reshuffle, Abe shifts focus to economy but retains key ministers

Kyodo, Staff Report

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kept close allies in key Cabinet posts in a reshuffle Wednesday that attempts to maintain stability in economic management and diplomacy as he leads the ruling coalition into an Upper House election next summer.

Abe retained nine Cabinet members, including Finance Minister Taro Aso, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and Akira Amari, minister of economic and fiscal policy, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced Wednesday. Abe also appointed 10 new Cabinet members.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato was named to a newly created ministerial post that Abe hopes will create “a society in which all 100 million people can play an active role.” In this job, Kato will coordinate policies tackling issues such as the falling birthrate and elderly care.

Kato will also serve as minister tasked with addressing North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals, as well as minister in charge of promoting a greater role for women in society.

During a news conference later in the day, Abe said the economy would be the new Cabinet’s top policy priority, reiterating three key targets: boosting gross domestic product by 20 percent to ¥600 trillion by 2020, turning around the country’s low birthrate and beefing up welfare services.

“We are going to shoot arrows to those three goals,” Abe said. “We have built a strong (Cabinet) for that purpose.

“From now on, too, our top priority is the economy. We need to strengthen measures to achieve GDP of ¥600 trillion,” he added.

Abe, meanwhile, admitted he had heard the “voices of some people” who have criticized the ambitious goals as unrealistic.

But the prime minister said his new Cabinet would “squarely tackle” Japan’s graying society and dwindling number of children.

In shifting his focus back to the economy from defense issues, Abe is aiming to spark economic growth, especially after his support rate plummeted in recent months as the ruling bloc pushed contentious security legislation through the Diet.

But Abe is facing a number of obstacles in his quest to boost his flagging support rate ahead of the election — especially the economic slowdown in China, observers say. His “Abenomics” policy mix has lost steam as Japan’s largest trading partner suffers from its worst financial crisis in recent years.

Asked what long-term policy issues he will tackle over the next three years, Abe said debate over the Constitution is among his priorities.

“I’d like to deepen national debates on what form of the Constitution is needed in the current of the times,” Abe said. He did not elaborate further.

Among new faces in the Cabinet, Motoo Hayashi, chairman of the Lower House Committee on Rules and Administration, was appointed minister of economy, trade and industry, and Hiroshi Moriyama, chairman of an LDP panel on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade initiative, was tapped as minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Hiroshi Hase, a professional wrestler-turned-lawmaker, was named minister of education, replacing Hakubun Shimomura, who had taken heat for the mishandling of a project to build the 2020 Tokyo Olympics’ main stadium. The number of female ministers dropped by one, leaving just three women in the Cabinet.

Abe appointed Tamayo Marukawa, a TV newscaster-turned-politician, as environment minister and Aiko Shimajiri, chairwoman of the Upper House Environment Committee, as minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs. Sanae Takaichi remained as minister of internal affairs and communications.

Abe retained one Cabinet post for junior coalition partner Komeito, whose policy chief, Keiichi Ishii, replaced former party leader Akihiro Ota as transport minister. Shigeru Ishiba, a top rival of Abe’s, stayed on as regional revitalization minister. His role had been closely watched amid speculation that he might leave the Cabinet. Ishiba recently launched an intraparty faction in hopes of raising his standing as a potential successor to Abe.