Abe packs his cabinet

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Abe packs his cabinet

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has consolidated his political position in the Liberal Democratic Party by reshuffling two thirds of his cabinet members on Wednesday. If he is re-elected as president of the conservative party in September next year, Abe will be at the helm of the country until March 2018, when the next general elections are scheduled. The prospect that he will likely hold onto power for a long time, shaking off the post-war sensibility through a reinterpretation of Japan’s pacifist Constitution or a constitutional amendment, rings sharp alarm bells across the Korean Peninsula. But what we are more concerned about is the ultra-rightist face of Abe’s new cabinet. Or maybe we mean faces: Of a total of 19 cabinet members, 15 came from the Japan Conference, a stronghold of Japan’s far-rightists.

The Japan Conference was established in 1997 with the goal of becoming more powerful in Northeast Asia by changing the Self-Defense Force into a normal military capable of carrying out real battles. The ultra-nationalist group was formed after the National Conference to Defend Japan, a group of extreme-right conservatives who insisted on constitutional revisions and the nuclear arming of Japan, and a religious congregation aimed at protecting Japan were unified. Some 80 percent of the new faces in the Abe cabinet are members of an internal group of the Japan Conference, which was organized by representatives who concur with the ideas of the Japan Conference.

Abe himself serves as special advisor to the group, and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and five of the six members who remained in their posts through the cabinet reshuffle are also members of the group. Sanae Takaichi, its vice president and newly appointed minister of general affairs, publicly demanded an invalidation of the Kono Statement, which admitted the forced mobilization of sex slaves by the Japanese Imperial Army before and during World War II. Eriko Yamatani, newly appointed minister for the North Korea abductee issue, recently visited the United States to protest the installation of “comfort women” statues as chairwoman of a confederation of legislators to safeguard Japanese territory.

President Park Geun-hye expressed hope for a new start in Seoul-Tokyo ties in her address on Aug. 15. Given the ultra-nationalist hue of the new line-up in the Abe cabinet, this will not be easy. Park will most likely have to deal with Abe throughout her term. No one knows where he’s going. The government must prepare for the worst.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 5, Page 30

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