In what may be a sign of renewed frictions between key Cabinet figures, Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka on Wednesday launched a private advisory panel on diplomatic issues.

The move comes as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is planning to set up a similar team of his own.

Koizumi’s aides said last week that the prime minister will begin holding informal talks with diplomatic experts on a regular basis. Koizumi’s team will be headed by Yukio Okamoto, a former Foreign Ministry official who is now a private consultant on foreign affairs.

Meanwhile, Tanaka’s team held its first meeting at the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday afternoon, inviting guests that included Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, an actress and UNICEF goodwill ambassador.

Some observers say that Tanaka hastily launched her own team out of a sense of rivalry with the Cabinet secretariat, led by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, with whom she has had a series of rows in recent months, principally over personnel matters at the Foreign Ministry.

Tanaka was seen by some as resentful of Fukuda, suspecting that he conspired with senior Foreign Ministry bureaucrats who resisted her control and interfered in the ministry’s personnel matters.

Speaking with reporters Monday, Tanaka flatly denied the speculation by stressing her idea to create the team dates back to mid-August. At Wednesday’s gathering, Tanaka said she wants the team to discuss not only diplomacy and national security but also economic and cultural issues.

Asked to comment on Tanaka’s panel, Fukuda told a regular news conference, “I haven’t heard anything about that and I don’t see a need to intervene. I have nothing in particular to say.”

The prime minister’s aides, for their part, emphasize the “informal” nature of Koizumi’s team, apparently trying to avoid criticism that two separate panels set up by Koizumi and Tanaka could create inconsistencies in the government’s diplomatic policy.

“Prime Minister Koizumi will just have lunch with diplomatic experts once a month. The guests will change every time so that the prime minister can hear a wider range of opinions in an informal setting,” one of Koizumi’s aides said earlier this week.

Some lawmakers in the ruling camp also criticize Koizumi for depending too much on the opinions of private experts on policy decisions, without fully consulting his Liberal Democratic Party colleagues.

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