Abe named prime minister, vows to strengthen national security

December 26, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe filled his Cabinet with economic policy veterans--who are also close colleagues--in hopes that resuscitating the Japanese economy will propel his party to victory in the Upper House election next summer.

An Upper House victory along the lines of the Liberal Democratic Party’s landslide win in the Dec. 16 Lower House election would give the LDP greater stability for the Abe administration in tackling more sensitive issues concerning national security and constitutional amendments.

Abe was chosen prime minister in a special Diet session on Dec. 26. He announced his Cabinet lineup after the session.

In his first press conference at the prime minister's office on the same night, Abe reiterated that rebuilding the Japan-U.S. alliance is his top foreign policy priority.

"We need to bring back the kind of diplomacy that protects national interests and asserts its positions," he noted.

Regarding the strained ties with China over disputed islands in the East China Sea, Abe said, "As I speak, the Japan Coast Guard and the Self-Defense Forces are protecting the sea and airspace around the Senkaku Islands. National security is not somebody else's business but is a crisis that exists right in front of us."

He said the Cabinet will set up a national security council and take other measures to best strengthen Japan's national security.

As part of that Cabinet, former Prime Minister Taro Aso was given the concurrent posts of deputy prime minister, finance minister and state minister in charge of financial services. Aso backed Abe in the September LDP presidential election and has supported Abe's efforts in his political comeback.

Stressing the need for an economic "rebirth," Abe named a close associate, Akira Amari, to the post of state minister in charge of that mission to serve as point man for the administration's economic and fiscal policy.

Amari will oversee the new “economic rebirth” headquarters that Abe plans to set up after the first Cabinet meeting. The headquarters will be chaired by Abe and comprise all Cabinet ministers.

Amari will be backed by Keiji Furuya, who was named chairman of the National Public Safety Commission as well as state minister in charge of solidifying social infrastructure, a newly established post.

The move is in line with Abe’s calls to greatly increase public works spending as a means of moving the economy out of its deflationary state.

Another close Abe associate, Yoshihide Suga, was named chief Cabinet secretary. In the role of the government’s top spokesman, Suga will serve as coordinator among the various central government ministries to ensure everyone is on the same page for policy priorities.

On foreign policy, Abe has said he would work to repair Japan’s alliance with the United States as part of efforts to improve ties with China and South Korea.

His new foreign minister is Fumio Kishida, who was state minister in charge of Okinawa and the Northern Territories during Abe’s first stint as prime minister.

The lack of progress on relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, was a major reason relations with Washington deteriorated under the Democratic Party of Japan-led government.

Abe hopes that Kishida's past experience with Okinawa issues will help mend ties with the United States.

Itsunori Onodera, the new defense minister, will also have a say in Okinawa affairs. Onodera is well-versed in foreign policy matters, having previously served as senior vice foreign minister.

But Onodera is also expected to play a major role down the road when Abe attempts to change a government interpretation that will allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense.

In another move to help the LDP in next summer's Upper House election, specifically among female voters, Abe chose Sanae Takaichi as party policy chief and Seiko Noda as chairwoman of the party's General Council on Dec. 25. It is the first time the LDP as a ruling party has selected women for those important party posts.

Yuriko Koike was chosen as chairwoman of the General Council when the LDP was in the opposition.

Although the promotions of Takaichi and Noda to executive posts will allow the LDP to say that it is changing, the moves reflect Abe's intention of concentrating influence in his Cabinet rather than in the party.

Takaichi and Noda have held ministerial posts in the past. But their relative inexperience in party affairs will allow Abe's Cabinet ministers, especially those in key economic positions, to hold considerable influence over policy decisions.

A key pillar of Abe’s economic growth policy is to build roads, dams and levees nationwide to protect the nation from natural disasters. LDP officials are calling for spending 200 trillion yen ($2.4 trillion) over 10 years on these projects.

Furuya, who will double as disaster management minister, will be responsible for the program along with land and infrastructure minister Akihiro Ota, the only Cabinet member from New Komeito, the LDP's coalition partner.

During the Lower House election campaign, New Komeito, which also places emphasis on an economic recovery, promised to commit 100 trillion yen over 10 years to a "New Deal" to prevent and reduce damage from disasters.

* * *

Lineup of Abe Cabinet

* Prime Minister:

Shinzo Abe, 58, Lower House, LDP

* Deputy Prime Minister/ Finance Minister/ State minister in charge of financial services:

Taro Aso, 72, Lower House, LDP

* Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications:

Yoshitaka Shindo, 54, Lower House, LDP

* Justice Minister:

Sadakazu Tanigaki, 67, Lower House, LDP

* Foreign Minister:

Fumio Kishida, 55, Lower House, LDP

* Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology:

Hakubun Shimomura, 58, Lower House, LDP

* Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare:

Norihisa Tamura, 48, Lower House, LDP

* Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries:

Yoshimasa Hayashi, 51, Upper House, LDP

* Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry:

Toshimitsu Motegi, 57, Lower House, LDP

* Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism:

Akihiro Ota, 67, Lower House, New Komeito

* Environment Minister/ State minister in charge of nuclear power:

Nobuteru Ishihara, 55, Lower House, LDP

* Defense Minister:

Itsunori Onodera, 52, Lower House, LDP

* Chief Cabinet Secretary:

Yoshihide Suga, 64, Lower House, LDP

* State minister in charge of reconstruction:

Takumi Nemoto, 61, Lower House, LDP

* National Public Safety Commission Chairman/ State minister in charge of solidifying social infrastructure:

Keiji Furuya, 60, Lower House, LDP

* State minister in charge of economic rebirth and comprehensive reform:

Akira Amari, 63, Lower House, LDP

* State minister in charge of Okinawa and Northern Territories:

Ichita Yamamoto, 54, Upper House, LDP

* State minister in charge of administrative reform:

Tomomi Inada, 53, Lower House, LDP

* State minister in charge of measures for declining birth rate:

Masako Mori, 48, Upper House, LDP

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, upper right, and key ministers in charge of economic policy, clockwise: Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of solidifying social infrastructure; Akira Amari, state minister in charge of economic rebirth; and Finance Minister Taro Aso, who also serves as state minister in charge of financial services (Asahi Shimbun file photos)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, upper right, and key ministers in charge of economic policy, clockwise: Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of solidifying social infrastructure; Akira Amari, state minister in charge of economic rebirth; and Finance Minister Taro Aso, who also serves as state minister in charge of financial services (Asahi Shimbun file photos)

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  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, upper right, and key ministers in charge of economic policy, clockwise: Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of solidifying social infrastructure; Akira Amari, state minister in charge of economic rebirth; and Finance Minister Taro Aso, who also serves as state minister in charge of financial services (Asahi Shimbun file photos)
  • Shinzo Abe acknowledges the applause of fellow Lower House members after being named prime minister on Dec. 26. (Hiroyuki Yamamoto)
  • Shinzo Abe, third from right, with other Liberal Democratic Party executives, from left: Takeo Kawamura, who is in charge of election strategy; policy chief Sanae Takaichi; party Vice President Masahiko Komura; Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, and Seiko Noda, chairwoman of the General Council. (Teruo Kashiyama)

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