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The ministers appointed to the second Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori announced their priority tasks in separate press conferences Tuesday evening.

Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, who has retained his post, restated his intention to successfully conclude the upcoming Okinawa Group of Eight summit as well as the G8 ministerial meetings in Fukuoka and Miyazaki.

“The government will strive to issue a message from Okinawa that compiles the result of summit discussions focusing on 21st-century challenges,” Kono said.

Kono also reiterated efforts to maintain sound diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, citing Japan’s efforts to improve ties with Russia.

“In Japan-Russia relations, my predecessors have built a basis of our bilateral ties, including an agreement to strive to conclude a peace treaty by the end of 2000,” Kono said.

Tokyo and Moscow pledged in 1997 to conclude a bilateral peace treaty by the end of this year after resolving a pending territorial dispute over Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

Regarding the prospect of the peace treaty negotiations, Kono stressed the importance of bilateral summit meetings between Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Russian President Vladimir Putin — one scheduled at the Okinawa summit and another expected to take place in early September.

Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa said that a change in economic management will hinge on gross domestic product data for the latest April-June quarter, to be released in September.

“I will then examine what to do and what not to do, and ask the prime minister for instruction,” Miyazawa told a news conference immediately after being reappointed.

Now that the corporate sector appears to be picking up, he said, employment and consumption conditions will be closely monitored, adding that both factors are vital to a private demand-led economic recovery.

“I hope private demand will replace public demand (as the economy’s driving force) by this fall,” he said.

Regarding the recent rescue package for troubled department store operator Sogo Co. — financed with taxpayers’ money — he said the Financial Reconstruction Commission made the decision most likely to minimize taxpayers’ burden. He said the new FRC chairman would explain the scheme in the Diet as it is too complicated for many to understand.

Newly appointed Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa said the government will hasten the nation’s structural reform, especially by carrying out an “IT (information and technology) revolution.”

The technology-savvy Lower House member was appointed by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori to concurrently serve as a top official in charge of IT affairs at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

“This Cabinet is the one that will meet the 21st century. (It) must play a major and important role for the sake of the next generation,” Nakagawa said.

Nakagawa, a former newspaper reporter and close aid to Prime Minister Mori, also pledged to make the upcoming Group of Eight summit scheduled for later this month a success.

Chikage Ogi, president of the New Conservative Party who was appointed as Construction Minister and National Land Agency chief, said her mission is to regain public trust in public works programs after a bribery scandal involving a former construction minister broke out.

Last week, Eiichi Nakao, was arrested on suspicion of accepting some 30 million yen in bribes from Tokyo-based construction firm Wakachiku Construction Co. while in office in 1996 in exchange for using his influence to have the firm selected as a designated bidding company for public works projects.

Ogi said the construction ministry needs to establish a fair bidding system for public works projects so that people would not have any doubts about the process of designating construction firms.

Posts and Telecommunications Minister Kozo Hirabayashi expressed hope to solve the dispute with the United States over the interconnection fees charged by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. as soon as possible.

While acknowledging that the issue should be solved before the G8 summit meeting later this month, Hirabayashi declined to comment on whether he thinks NTT’s interconnection fees are too high.

“We cannot spend much time on solving this issue. I would like to hear opinions from various people and reach a right conclusion for the issue,” Hirabayashi said.

Kazuo Torashima, 72, who was appointed as the new director general for the Defense Agency, said that he will deal with the long-standing issues over U.S. military facilities in Okinawa with utmost care, such as issues concerning relocation of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station.

Newly appointed international trade and industry minister Takeo Hiranuma pledged to make efforts for the early launch the new round of trade liberalization negotiations under the World Trade Organization, with his ministry intent on building up cooperation with other economies based on WTO and other international rules.

Calling information and technology a “detonator” for development of the Japanese economy in the 21st century, Hiranuma said he will steer the “IT revolution” through a newly planned state panel on IT strategies and cooperation with other ministers in charge of IT.

Taichi Sakaiya, director-general of the Economic Planning Agency, said one of the most important tasks he faces is to complete the foundation of the new Economic and Fiscal Policy Council, a core of the planned government realignment in January 2001.

“I want to build up function, structure and contents” of the council, which is to include intellectuals from the private sector, he said.

Another of his priorities is to resuscitate the nation’s economy by promoting structural reforms. “We need to focus public investment in the areas of information, environment protection, aging population and urban infrastructure. By doing so, I want to help set the direction so that Japan will fit the knowledge-oriented age that is full of diversity,” he said.

Justice Minister Okiharu Yasuoka said he will consider reviewing the juvenile law, including lowering the minimum age at which people can be penalized for crimes as adults, which currently stands at 16, in the wake of a series of crimes commited by minors.

Yasuoka said the issue needs to be discussed from a various points of view such as lowering the minimum age at which people can cast votes for national elections. He also said he will make efforts to promote “drastic” reforms in the justice system.

Kunihiro Tsuzuki, who has been reapppointed as director general of the Management and Coordination Agency, pledged to push for legislation to reduce the number of national public servants by 25 percent over 10 years.

“That’s a big task assigned to me,” said Tsuzuki, the only Cabinet member from Komeito, one of the three ruling coalition parties.

21st Century Club

Eight independents in the House of Representatives on Tuesday formed a parliamentary group called the 21st Century Club.

The group comprises Kozo Yamamoto, Yoshio Udagawa, Yoko Kamikawa, Motohiko Kondo, Takuya Hirai, Kensaku Morita, Seigo Kitamura and Yasushi Kaneko. Yamamoto leads the group, they said.

Yamamoto and Morita were elected to the Lower House for their third and second terms, respectively, in the June 25 general election, while the six others were elected for the first time.