National / Politics

Taro Kono likely to get defense portfolio while Komeito's Kazuyoshi Akaba may become land minister

Kyodo, Reuters

Foreign Minister Taro Kono is being considered for the role of defense minister in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet reshuffle set for Wednesday, while a veteran ruling party lawmaker is set to replace the current land minister from junior coalition partner Komeito, political sources said Monday.

Kono is tipped to succeed current Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, having maintained a tough stance in his role as foreign minister against South Korea over wartime issues that have recently strained political and trade ties between the two countries.

Abe is hoping that the 56-year-old Kono, known for his close ties with the United States and positive relationship with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will strengthen Japan’s role in trilateral security cooperation between Tokyo, Washington and Seoul amid the ongoing dispute.

Abe may also appoint Olympics minister Shunichi Suzuki as chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s decision-making General Council, sources familiar with the plan said Monday.

Suzuki took up the post of minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics for the second time in April, after the gaffe-prone Yoshitaka Sakurada resigned. Suzuki’s father is former Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki, who also headed the LDP’s General Council.

Abe has also decided to tap Kazuyoshi Akaba, a veteran Komeito lawmaker, as his new land minister, according to sources.

Akaba will replace Keiichi Ishii as minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, a position held by a Komeito lawmaker since December 2012, when the LDP returned to power and Abe became prime minister for the second time.

Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi asked Abe to appoint a member of his party as land minister when they met Friday, the sources said.

Ishii, who took office in October 2015, has become the longest-serving land minister. Akaba, an eight-time House of Representatives member, serves as a deputy chair of Komeito’s Policy Research Council and is known to be close to Abe, partly because they were both first elected as parliamentarians in 1993.

Toshihiro Nikai, meanwhile, is expected to keep the ruling party’s No. 2 post of secretary general, while Fumio Kishida will stay on as chairman of the Policy Research Council.

After serving as Japan’s top negotiator in bilateral trade talks with the United States, economic revitalization minister Toshimitsu Motegi is expected to replace Taro Kono as foreign minister.

Abe is considering installing industry minister Hiroshige Seko in the post of secretary general of the LDP’s Upper House caucus, the sources said.

Familiar faces such as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso are also likely to keep their portfolios.

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