Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to appoint a hawkish ally as defense minister amid tensions with his country’s neighbors, in a cabinet reshuffle that will leave most key economic personnel in place, according to local media reports.
The Asahi newspaper reported the planned appointment of Tomomi Inada -- who would be the second woman to serve in the post -- at a time Japan is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea. While Inada, a former lawyer and most recently policy chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has little experience of security issues, she is known for embracing causes that could sour ties with Japan’s biggest trading partner.
Inada, 57, is a frequent visitor to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, a place seen by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. She was once refused entry to South Korea when she sought to visit islands close to a group of islets disputed between the countries. Last week she said a statue honoring victims of wartime military sex abuse should be removed from outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul, the Sankei newspaper reported.
"This can’t be a positive sign," said Liang Yunxiang, a professor of Japanese studies at Peking University. "The two nations are in a security dilemma because they have no mutual trust. The appointment of Inada will deepen the mistrust. "
‘Joan of Arc’
At a party meeting in 2015, Abe compared Inada to Joan of Arc, the peasant girl who led a French army to victory against England in the 15th century, the Sankei reported. Inada would replace Gen Nakatani, who presided over Japan’s failed bid to supply submarines to Australia this year, in what would have been its first major overseas defense contract since Abe loosened restrictions on arms exports in 2014.
"Inada’s role will be complicated by her well known revisionist views on history that downplay Japanese wartime depredations and seek to rehabilitate this inglorious record of imperial aggression," said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Japan. "In China, Japan has been vilified for its involvement in the South China Sea dispute and there will certainly be careful scrutiny of Inada’s comments and Japan’s naval operations there due to her hawkish views."
While Japan is not a claimant in the South China Sea, it has supported countries like the Philippines and Vietnam who are in dispute with China over the water, through means such as providing patrol boats.
Finance Minister Taro Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida are set to keep the jobs they have held since Abe took office in December 2012, media reports have said. Nobuteru Ishihara will remain economy minister, while Hiroshige Seko, most recently a deputy chief cabinet secretary, will become trade minister, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Kozo Yamamoto, an LDP lawmaker who has advised Abe on the economy, will be named minister in charge of revitalizing regional economies, according to a person familiar with the matter. Demographics Minister Katsunobu Kato will take on an extra post in charge of reforming working styles, the Nikkei newspaper said, though it is as yet unclear what his new role will involve.
Abe announced a new line up of LDP executives before officially naming his cabinet. Toshihiro Nikai, 77, was promoted to secretary general, the party’s second-in-command,
Nikai replaces Sadakazu Tanigaki, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a cycling accident last month. Nikai is known for favoring government spending on infrastructure, as well as for his relatively warm ties with China.