Japan’s leader taps new Cabinet ministers to freshen image

TOKYO (AP) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shuffled his Cabinet yesterday, adding two women and the son of a former leader to freshen his image but maintaining continuity on United States (US)-oriented trade and security policies.

Abe, the longest-serving prime minister in Japan’s postwar history, kept key positions in the hands of close allies at a time when he is locked in a bitter trade dispute with South Korea and as he tries to fine tune a trade deal with Washington.

Taro Kono, who had been foreign minister, was appointed Defence Minister, while Toshimitsu Motegi, Minister In Charge of Economic Policy, is now Foreign Minister. Finance Minister Taro Aso kept his job.

Motegi said he will still head trade negotiations with Washington, with the goal of signing a deal by the end of this month.

The agreement would open the Japanese market to more US agricultural products like corn and beef.

With just two years left on his party leadership, Abe also sought to add some new faces and keep potential challengers close.

Getting the greatest attention was the new Environment Minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, the 38-year-old son of popular former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. He was the only appointment in his 30s in a line-up dominated by men in their 50s and older.

Expectations in the Japanese public have been high for years that the younger Koizumi is destined to be Japan’s leader. Koizumi has tended to keep a distance from Abe, although both hold the conservative pro-US policies of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Abe told reporters that he was proud of his choices as people, mostly veterans, who will tackle reforms to keep Japan competitive in the “new era” of globalisation.

On Koizumi, he said, “I have big hopes he will take up challenges with innovative ideas fitting of someone from the younger generation.”

Professor of Political Science at the University of Tokyo Yu Uchiyama said the appointments, besides Koizumi, showed Abe chose those who were very close to him.

“Abe wanted the popular Koizumi under his control,” Uchiyama said.

Also in the limelight are two new female ministers, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Hashimoto, a former Olympian speedskater who was appointed minister in charge of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Women in the Cabinet tend to get attention in Japan, which is criticised as lagging in promoting females in both the private sector and politics.

The nationally circulated Asahi newspaper said the Cabinet appointments showed Abe was building his successors but, at the same time, having candidates competing with each other in an effort to maintain his influence.