Mr. Abe makes his first move

Mr. Shinzo Abe was chosen as the nation’s new prime minister by the Diet Tuesday and immediately formed his Cabinet. Although Mr. Abe is the first prime minister to have been born after World War II, and, at 52, is the youngest prime minister in the postwar period, his Cabinet lineup does not contain any surprises.

All Cabinet members are politicians personally or ideologically close to him, and he has rewarded those who contributed to his election as president of the Liberal Democratic Party. Most members either belong to factions that supported Mr. Abe in the LDP race or personally helped him to win the party election even though they belong to factions that let their members vote freely in the party race.

The Abe Cabinet has been formed as the nation faces difficult issues at home and abroad. Domestically, the government must carry out financial reconstruction and tax reforms. It must make the social security system efficient while enhancing people’s trust in it. It must rectify the gap between the rich and the poor, which many people feel has widened under the deregulation politics of Mr. Abe’s predecessor, Mr. Junichiro Koizumi.

On the foreign policy front, the nation must improve its relations with neighboring countries, especially China and South Korea, which have alarmingly deteriorated due to Mr. Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine. Japan must also help solve the impasse over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Abe apparently wants to exercise strong leadership in solving the nation’s problems. To achieve this, he appointed five special advisers to the prime minister — three more than Mr. Koizumi had appointed. They will advise Mr. Abe on matters including security, economic and fiscal policies, education reform, public relations and the past abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents.

To strengthen the function of the staff directly under the prime minister, Mr. Abe also created three new Cabinet posts: state minister in charge of the abduction issue, state minister in charge of technological innovation, and state minister in charge of policies to help people who have failed to find a second career. The first post will be concurrently filled by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, a close ally of Mr. Abe.

Mr. Abe picked veteran politicians for important posts: Mr. Taro Aso, a rival in the LDP presidential race, will continue to serve as foreign minister as in the Koizumi Cabinet; Mr. Koji Omi will hold the finance portfolio; Mr. Bunmei Ibuki will serve as education minister and Mr. Fumio Kyuma will head the Defense Agency. Mr. Kyuma previously filled the same post in the Hashimoto administration.

Mr. Aso says he will make utmost efforts to arrange a summit between Mr. Abe and Chinese President Hu Jintao in an effort to mend bilateral relations. But given Mr. Abe’s perception of history, optimism is not warranted. It seems that Mr. Abe does not want to accept the conclusions of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. He refuses to clarify whether he accepts the statement delivered in 1995 by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, in which the Japanese government formally apologized for the damage and suffering Japan’s colonial rule and aggression caused to the people of many countries, particularly to those in Asia.

Prime Minister Abe does not make clear whether he will visit Yasukuni Shrine. Even if the Japan-China summit is held, suspicions about Japan will only deepen if Mr. Abe fails to change his historical perception.

On the domestic front, Mr. Abe has made it clear that his administration will attach great importance to a revision of the Fundamental Law of Education in the current Diet session. The revision will include “love of nation” as one of the goals of education and empower the government to have a more direct say in what is taught at school.

But the proposed revision carries the danger of instilling children with a singular way of looking at the nation and its history, and introducing improper state control over education. The opposition parties, concerned that the bill will foment unhealthy nationalism, are expected to strongly resist the revision.

Mr. Abe outlines his manifesto in a book titled “Toward a Beautiful Country.” The use of such an aesthetically pleasing title may, however, draw attention away from the true nature of his ideology. Mr. Abe should address important issues in concrete terms, including how to improve Japanese children’s scholastic ability, how to achieve economic growth — his main priority — and how to change the tax system both for financial reconstruction and reform of the social security system.

See related links:
White House hails Abe, hopes he mends Asia ties
Abe will mend Asian fences, Shiozaki says
Populist, unambiguous Koizumi tough act to follow
Seoul tells Abe to address Japan’s history
Markets show mixed reaction to Cabinet, press for reform
No sales tax-hike talk until after Upper House poll

Abe made prime minister
Hawkishness is watchword for Abe team
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