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With Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka flexing her muscles over the ministry’s personnel affairs, bureaucrats have begun a counterattack, questioning her diplomatic judgment.

Among their complaints is that Tanaka not only canceled a planned meeting with visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage this week, but tried to keep Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi from meeting with him as well.

Armitage discussed U.S. President George W. Bush’s new missile defense strategy with Deputy Foreign Minister Ryozo Kato during his visit to Japan on Monday and Tuesday. He was also scheduled to meet Tanaka on Tuesday afternoon but ended up meeting only senior vice foreign ministers.

Tanaka explained Wednesday evening that she had “private business” and was also busy handling the ministry’s personnel matters, over which she has been in a standoff with bureaucrats since taking office last month.

“I have my schedule,” she said, “and it was fine because Prime Minister (Junichiro) Koizumi met him.”

Ministry sources, however, say that Tanaka actually tried to stop the meeting between Armitage and Koizumi, saying that the prime minister was not the official counterpart of the deputy secretary of state.

In addition, a ministry official said Tanaka also canceled scheduled telephone conversations with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana because “her schedule didn’t allow (the talks).”

Some ministry officials complain that Tanaka is being “unprofessional” in her handling of diplomatic matters and is too preoccupied with ministry personnel, going as far as saying that her style threatens to undermine Japan’s foreign relations.

“It’s a serious diplomatic blow that she failed to meet Armitage,” one official said.

The sources said the U.S. Embassy is angered by Tanaka’s cancellation and complained about it to the ministry and senior ruling Liberal Democratic Party officials.

Armitage was carrying a letter from Bush and is one of the administration’s key policymakers on Asian affairs. He was also a key author of a bipartisan report on U.S. policy toward Japan released last fall, which emphasized strengthening the bilateral security alliance.

“The foreign minister does not understand the importance of diplomacy and it’s inexcusable that she canceled the meeting for personal business,” the official said. “It would have been a very good opportunity to discuss various important bilateral issues.”

Earlier this week, Tanaka announced a freeze on all personnel transfers and ordered the return of former heads of the Russian Division and Financial Affairs Division to their posts after they were assigned overseas. Their transfer to the new posts had been informally decided before Tanaka became foreign minister on April 26.

Tanaka was also planning to remove Vice Foreign Minister Yutaka Kawashima, the top ministry bureaucrat who reportedly resisted her orders on personnel matters. Aides to the prime minister apparently blocked that move, however, for fear of undermining the diplomatic duties of Koizumi’s new Cabinet.

She told a news conference Friday morning that she is “not thinking about” Kawashima’s replacement. Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuo Yasuda also said Friday that the ministry’s personnel shifts ended Thursday with the return of the Russian Division head.

As a demonstration of her displeasure with the bureaucrats, Tanaka is already refusing to see several senior officials, according to the sources.

“It’s fine that the new minister tries to reform the ministry, but if she refuses to even meet the senior officials, we can’t discuss important diplomatic issues,” another official said.

Tanaka, who held talks with visiting Argentine Foreign Minister Adalberto Rodriguez Giavarini on Thursday, did not attend a dinner hosted by senior vice foreign ministers.

Usually, it is the foreign minister’s job to host a dinner or lunch when a foreign counterpart makes official visits to Japan. However, Tanaka had apparently told officials that she does not like to attend dinners, a ministry official said.

“Tanaka did not cancel the dinner as in the case of Armitage,” the official said, “but the fact that she didn’t attend was very impolite in terms of protocol.”

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