Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka indicated Friday that she has given up for now plans to replace Vice Foreign Minister Yutaka Kawashima, saying she “is not thinking about it.”
Speculation had been growing that Tanaka would advance the regular personnel shifts of senior officials scheduled for after the July Group of Eight summit meetings to this month.
It was believed that Tanaka may have wanted to dump Kawashima immediately after the ministry’s announcement of a plan to reform its operations, which was called for after a fraud scandal involving a former official in charge of logistics for VIP trips overseas.
But Tanaka told a regular news conference Friday morning that she was “surprised” to see media reports about her seeking to have Kawashima replaced. “I have not said anything and I am not thinking (about replacing Kawashima),” she said.
Tanaka’s comments are believed to indicate that close aides to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi did not approve of Kawashima’s replacement.
“I have consulted with the prime minister,” she said, “and I have frozen personnel (transfers).”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda separately told reporters Friday that it was his belief that personnel shifts at the Foreign Ministry had been completed as of Thursday, when Jiro Kodera, who had been named minister to Britain, returned to his previous post as head of the Russian Division.
Although she denied any plans to replace Kawashima, Tanaka still severely criticized the vice minister for resisting her decision to move Kodera back to his position.
Tanaka said it was “outrageous” that Kawashima tried to block her decision and did not make the personnel shifts until late Thursday night, even though she ordered Kodera to fly back to Japan from London on Monday.
Tanaka also criticized ministry officials for reportedly ordering a key figure in the probe into misused funds to enter a hospital in February to disrupt the investigation.
Masato Kitera, former Financial Affairs Division chief and a personal friend of Tanaka, told her of the instructions he received before being named as minister to France on Monday. She reversed Kitera’s transfer Wednesday and reassigned him to head the Financial Affairs Division.
Later Friday, a senior Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker indirectly told Tanaka not to stir up too much commotion, warning that controversies over the Foreign Ministry could affect Diet deliberations on treaties and other diplomatic matters.
Tanaka reportedly told the lawmaker that she will be “careful about her speech” from now on to avoid further turmoil.
“It seems as though I am acting out of selfishness, but that is not true,” Tanaka was quoted as telling the lawmaker.
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