Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his Cabinet on Wednesday, tapping a nationalist as defense minister, a choice that may stoke controversy both at home and abroad, while retaining most of his other key ministers.
Tomomi Inada, former policy chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is an enthusiastic supporter of Tokyo’s war-linked Yasukuni Shrine, which she has repeatedly visited.
The shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead — including World War II Class-A war criminals — is often regarded as a symbol of the country’s militarism of the 1930s and 1940s. Politicians visiting the shrine have sparked anger in neighboring countries that were victims of Japanese aggression.
At a news conference in the evening, Abe brushed off such concern, saying, “We will strengthen relationships with neighboring countries such as China and South Korea.”
Meanwhile, he condemned the Wednesday launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea as “intolerable.”
Abe has said the driving force behind the reshuffle was desire for the continued promotion of his Abenomics economic policies.
Abe told the news conference, “Our biggest priority is the economy … We will implement all sorts of policies to pull Japan out of deflation as swiftly as possible.”
But LDP leaders usually reshuffle their Cabinets after a major election to increase its political influence and ease frustration among party members hungry for a prestigious Cabinet post.
Inada is among a number of key nationalistic LDP members that back Abe. The prime minister has in the past given her a number of key positions in both the LDP and the government, and many regard her as Abe’s favorite candidate to succeed him as party leader — and possibly as prime minister.
Inada will immediately face a number of intractable problems that have bewildered the administration for years.
From provocative actions by North Korea — which lobbed a missile Wednesday into the nation’s Sea of Japan exclusive economic zone for the first time — to the controversial relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture, the challenges remain formidable.
As for the remainder of the Cabinet, Abe reappointed nine of the 19 ministers, including Finance Minister Taro Aso, who doubles as deputy prime minister, internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Hiroshige Seko, who had served as deputy chief Cabinet secretary under Abe since his second stint as prime minister began in December 2012, was appointed as minister of economy, trade and industry.
Abe has employed METI bureaucrats as the brains behind his economic policies instead of Finance Ministry officials, who tend to favor fiscal austerity. The appointment of Seko is likely to strengthen Abe’s close ties with METI officials.
Meanwhile, Shigeru Ishiba, former minister in charge of regional revitalization, left the Cabinet, reportedly declining Abe’s request to stay. Ishiba’s refusal is seen as a signal that he has set his sights on becoming the next prime minister. By leaving the Cabinet, he will now be able to maintain distance from Abe’s government — and any bad press that may befall it.Many of his aides have urged Ishiba to stay away from Abe’s Cabinet so that he can freely criticize the government.
As though to preempt a possible rebellion on the part of Ishiba, Abe said during the news conference he is confident that Ishiba will continue to “make efforts to cooperate” with his Cabinet.
Abe, who during his first stint as leader from 2007 to 2008 dealt with a number of scandals involving Cabinet ministers, has prioritized stability in his current term, choosing to retain certain LDP members with proven abilities and minimal potential for scandal.
Among other newly appointed ministers are Katsutoshi Kaneda, a former Finance Ministry official who was named justice minister; Hirokazu Matsuno, a Lower House member from Chiba Prefecture, as education minister; and Kozo Yamamoto, another Finance Ministry bureaucrat-turned-politician, as minister in charge of revitalizing regional economies.
Yamamoto was among a group of lawmakers that bashed the Bank of Japan and called for radical monetary-easing.
The group helped Abe craft his own Abenomics policies before he took the power in December 2012.
Katsunobu Kato, minister in charge of population, gender and working practices, and Nobuteru Ishihara, minister in charge of economic revitalization, were both reappointed to their posts.
With regard to work-related issues, Abe also said at the news conference, “We will revolutionize people’s working style, and eliminate the word ‘hiseiki’ from this nation.” Abe was referring to the Japanese word for non-regular employment.
Specifically, he vowed to put an end to Japan’s entrenched tradition of working long hours, and to hammer out a concrete action plan by the end of this fiscal year to realize what he called the “equal pay for equal work” principle. Abe said legislative steps will be taken accordingly.
Meanwhile, Abe said he is not considering extending his tenure as the prime minister at all.
The main opposition Democratic Party blasted Abe’s latest lineup, with acting Secretary-General Tetsuro Fukuyama labeling it “disappointing.”
The lack of fresh faces, Fukuyama said, suggests the Abe government has no plans to also shake up its economic policies, which the DP has lambasted as a failure.
Fukuyama also cast doubt on the caliber of Inada as defense chief.
“I’ve never seen her engaged in a concrete debate over security issues,” he said, calling the appointment questionable.
(Formed on Aug. 3, 2016)