INSIGHT: Team Abe to focus on economy, work on delicate issues later

December 27, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assembled his Cabinet with the primary goal of resuscitating the economy, but he also picked allies to lay the groundwork for conservative objectives, such as education reforms and constitutional amendments.

Abe labeled his Cabinet formed on Dec. 26 as one tasked with “breaking through the crisis.”

At a news conference, Abe said his administration’s “mission” is to drag Japan out of years of deflation.

“We will deliver results with three arrows: bold monetary policy, flexible fiscal policy and growth strategy,” he said.

Key members of Abe’s economic team are Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who serves as finance minister and minister in charge of financial services, and Akira Amari, minister in charge of economic rebirth.

Aso, a former prime minister, and Amari, a former industry minister who had also served as policy chief of the Liberal Democratic Party, are both close associates of Abe.

As finance minister, Aso will be responsible for fiscal policy. He will also coordinate closely with the Bank of Japan to achieve “bold” monetary policy that Abe advocated throughout the campaign for the Dec. 16 Lower House election.

The Abe administration is calling on the BOJ to conclude a policy accord with a 2-percent inflation target at the next Policy Board meeting in January.

Aso’s portfolio also includes measures to end deflation and deal with the yen’s appreciation.

Amari will oversee operations at the economic rebirth headquarters that Abe created as a central command for his administration’s economic policies on Dec. 26. The task force comprises all Cabinet ministers.

At his first Cabinet meeting on Dec. 26, Abe instructed ministers to begin compiling a large-scale supplementary budget for the current fiscal year through March and the full-year budget for fiscal 2013.

“We will put together a large-scale, effective extra budget to remove barriers (to ending deflation),” Amari told reporters on Dec. 26. “We will develop a growth strategy in the form of a concrete road map, and the government will commit to it.”

Efforts to formulate the growth strategy will be led by industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who is responsible for enhancing industrial competitiveness.

Abe is giving utmost priority to the economy to ensure victory in the Upper House election next summer, which would enable his administration to embark on more controversial proposals.

The LDP and New Komeito, its coalition partner, do not have a majority in the Upper House, although they control more than two-thirds of seats in the lower chamber.

“We will concentrate on budgetary matters until the Upper House election,” Abe told one of his aides. “As for other issues, we will only start to tackle them after that.”

Abe advocates that Japan must free itself from the framework imposed on it during allied occupation following its defeat in World War II.

During his first stint as prime minister, Abe made preparations for amending the pacifist Constitution and reforming the postwar education system, but he abruptly resigned in 2007 just two weeks shy of a year in office, citing poor health.

Abe, since he was again elected as LDP president in September, has repeatedly stated he still has unfinished business.

Education minister Hakubun Shimomura and Keiji Furuya, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, are among ministers who share Abe’s beliefs.

Shimomura, a close aide of Abe, helped draft the LDP’s conservative campaign platform as chief of the party’s education reform headquarters.

The platform called for revising the textbook screening process and reviewing the clause that states that the feelings of neighboring nations must be considered when deciding on what to include in textbooks.

“We have to make a wholesale review of postwar education,” Shimomura said.

Furuya, who has worked with Abe on resolving the issue of abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea, has been put in charge of the abduction issue in the Cabinet.

Internal affairs minister Yoshitaka Shindo has taken a hard-line stance on territorial issues, such as the Senkaku Islands, claimed by China, and the Takeshima islets, controlled by South Korea.

Tomomi Inada, state minister in charge of administrative reform, is known as an outspoken hawk. She belongs to a multiparty group of conservative lawmakers chaired by Abe.

Meanwhile, Abe appointed potential next-generation leaders Fumio Kishida and Itsunori Onodera as foreign and defense ministers, respectively.

“We must regain assertive diplomacy to protect national interests,” Abe said Dec. 26.

Abe on Dec. 25 told Onodera, a foreign policy expert, to be prepared for parliamentary deliberations on the right to collective self-defense.

Abe has long called for lifting a ban on the right to collective self-defense by changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution.

With the the ban in place, Japan cannot rush to the aid of U.S. warships if they came under attack in waters around the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, Abe has argued.

A panel of experts under Abe’s first Cabinet proposed that Japan be allowed to exercise the right under certain conditions.

On Dec. 26, Abe said he will hear opinions from experts on the issue once more but declined to say whether he will reach a final conclusion by the Upper House election.

Two of Abe’s rivals, Nobuteru Ishihara and Yoshihisa Hayashi, have been given daunting portfolios as nuclear crisis and farm ministers, respectively.

They ran against Abe for the LDP presidency in the September election.

“Six years ago, I faced criticism after trying to bring together like-minded people,” Abe said. “This time around, not all ministers completely agree with me.”

Ishihara, who doubles as environment minister, is in charge of dealing with the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. He was to visit Fukushima Prefecture on Dec. 27 to meet with Governor Yuhei Sato.

“I want to hear the real voices of victims and incorporate them into policies,” Ishihara said.

But the LDP is wary of moving away from nuclear power, although it was supported by people living in disaster-stricken areas.

The Abe administration, which plans to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance, will have to decide whether to join negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade arrangement led by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Hayashi will face difficulties because farm organizations and LDP lawmakers they support are staunchly opposed to eliminating tariffs on agricultural produce.

On Dec. 26, Abe refused to be drawn on the issue, saying only that his administration will thoroughly study the pros and cons of joining the TPP “by analyzing the situation to determine whether we can protect national interests.”

In enlisting Ishihara and Hayashi, Abe apparently took heed of how Junichiro Koizumi, a former prime minister, handled personnel issues. Abe served under Koizumi as chief Cabinet secretary.

Koizumi put Abe, Aso, Yasuo Fukuda and Sadakazu Tanigaki in demanding Cabinet posts both to groom future leaders and counter the threat they posed. Fukuda succeeded Abe as prime minister in 2007, while Tanigaki led the LDP for three years when the party was in opposition.

Koizumi displayed strong leadership by concentrating power in the prime minister’s office.

Abe plans to similarly bolster the prime minister’s office by appointing advisers to the Cabinet secretariat, who will serve as his brain trust.

They include Isao Iijima, secretary to the prime minister during the Koizumi Cabinet, former vice finance minister Yasutake Tango, and former vice foreign minister Shotaro Yachi. Tango was also Koizumi’s secretary during his Cabinet.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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  • Members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's new Cabinet pose for group photo on Dec. 26. (Teruo Kashiyama)

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