Opposition lawmakers are bombarding rookie Defense Minister Tomomi Inada with a barrage of questions in an ongoing Diet committee, attempting to trip her up, cast doubt on her abilities and apparently even reduce her to tears.
Since the Lower House Budget Committee kicked off last week, Inada, who was appointed defense minister in the August reshuffle of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet, has taken the brunt of sustained questioning from the main opposition Democratic Party.
She has so far avoided making a fatal mistake but has struggled at times, and at one point Abe felt obligated to come to her defense.
The DP’s tenacious attack on Inada represents a typical blame-game tactic meant to trigger blunders and — eventually — calls for her resignation. Such a strategy, however, runs counter to the opposition party’s purported commitment to constructive discussions under the leadership of its new chief, Renho.
Inada faced her first ordeal Friday when DP lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto pointed out that her failure to attend an annual memorial service for the nation’s war dead on Aug. 15 was grossly inconsistent with her past patriotic assertions.
Inada is known for espousing revisionist views of Japan’s wartime history, and many think that the three-day inspection trip she took to Djibouti in August was deliberately timed so she had an excuse to miss the ceremony as well as not to visit Yasukuni Shrine on the surrender anniversary, which would have infuriated China and South Korea.
“You always preach how important it is to pay respect and gratitude to the war dead. But I suppose your commitment wasn’t that serious after all, was it? Or was the Djibouti visit that urgent?” Tsujimoto said.
“It was very regrettable that I had to forgo the visit (to the memorial service), but I will humbly accept your criticism,” Inada answered as she appeared to be holding back tears.
The onslaught started again Tuesday when DP lawmaker Yuichi Goto grilled Inada over whether she will resume her annual visit to Yasukuni Shrine next year.
“I will make an appropriate decision as a member of the Abe Cabinet,” she said tersely.
Watching his minister struggle, Abe apparently felt compelled to help.
On Monday, DP veteran Seiji Maehara dredged up Inada’s assertions in a 2012 magazine interview that the U.S. military presence here is not for the sake of protecting Japan but instead is driven by America’s own interests.
“Are you still of the same opinion?” Maehara asked, “or, as defense minister, what exactly is it about the Japan-U.S. alliance that you now think is essential to Japan’s defense policy?”
As Inada approached the podium, a seated Abe instructed her in a not-so-quiet voice that it was the U.S. “power projection capability” that can help to protect Japan in the event of an attack. Inada repeated the answer moments later.
Maehara went on to accuse Abe of “being soft” with Inada, who is believed to be one of the prime minister’s favorites, casting the decision to appoint her as defense minister as problematic.
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