Abe’s reshuffle promotes right-wingers

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Abe’s reshuffle promotes right-wingers


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reshuffled cabinet has a right-wing bias with a record number of members belonging to an elite nationalistic organization.

On Wednesday, Abe reshuffled his cabinet for the first time since he took office 20 months ago, and 80 percent of its members are linked to the Japan Conference, a group of right-wing nationalists with members working in politics, business, academia and the cultural and religious spheres.

The highly influential organization, which was founded in 1997, is in favor of constitutional revisions and other measures to promote a nationalist agenda. It has over 35,000 members nationwide and 47 regional headquarters.

It advocates visits of important Japanese figures to the Yasukuni Shrine which honors 14 Class-A World War II war criminals.

Abe, who took office in December 2012, set a record for maintaining a cabinet without changes.

When he finally did change it, he created what analysts consider the most conservative post-war Japanese cabinet. Of a total of 19 cabinet officials, 15 including Abe are members of the Japan Conference, according to an analysis by the JoongAng Ilbo.

Before the reshuffle, 13 members, or roughly two-thirds, were members of the ultra-conservative group.

During Abe’s first term as prime minister in 2007, seven of his 18 cabinet members were Japan Conference members, or 39 percent.

While Abe retained many key ministers, of the 12 newly appointed cabinet members, nine, or 75 percent, are linked to the Japan Conference.

Abe fulfilled a pledge to improve the gender mix by picking five women for the cabinet, including the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Yuko Obuchi, the daughter of late former prime minister Keizo Obuchi, as the first female economy, trade and industry minister.

Three of the five new female ministers are members of the Japan Conference.

They include Sanae Takaichi, 53, a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) policy chief, who was appointed minister of internal affairs and communications. An Abe ally, Takaichi served as minister for gender equality in his first cabinet in 2006.

Takaichi served as chairwoman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council and last month demanded the government “issue a new statement” to replace the Kono Statement in 2015 when Japan marks the 70th anniversary of its surrender in World War II.

The landmark 1993 statement issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, apologized to the victims of sexual slavery, euphemistically called comfort women, under the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

Since taking office again in 2012, Abe’s government has been distancing itself from the 1993 Kono statement, which apologized for Japan’s forcing Korean women into sexual slavery and acknowledged that it was coercive for the first time.

Eriko Yamatani, 63, a former prime ministerial aide to Abe, was appointed minister in charge of the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korea. Yamatani, who has made insensitive remarks on Japan’s territorial disputes and on the issue of military sexual slavery, heads a policy committee of the Japan Conference.

Haruko Arimura, 44, an LDP upper house lawmaker, was appointed minister in charge of mobilizing the female workforce, doubling as minister for consumer affairs, food safety and declining birthrate.

But core members of the first cabinet, such as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, will stay on. Aso, along with Abe, serves as a special supreme adviser to the Japanese Conference.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Abe’s right-hand man, and Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura, known for his historical revisionist views, serve as deputy heads of the Japan Conference. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Economics Minister Akira Amari are also members of the group.

Abe’s reshuffle of his cabinet and LDP leadership comes ahead of an LDP election slated for September 2015, and is seen as a way of preparing for his re-election as party president.

Abe replaced his biggest political rival in the LDP, Shigeru Ishiba, with Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and veteran lawmaker as secretary general, the party’s No. 2 position. Tanigaki is known to be pro-China, leading to speculation that this may be Tokyo’s attempt to mend ties with Beijing, as Abe has been pushing for a summit with Xi Jinping.

Ishiba was in turn appointed to a newly created position as regional revitalization minister, doubling as minister for national strategic special zones.

In July, Abe announced plans to enable Japan to gain rights to collective self-defense, overturning a traditional reading of its pacifist constitution, raising concerns in the country’s former victims of colonization.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, a moderate conservative, was replaced by former vice defense minister Akinori Eto, who will be tasked with pushing ahead with Abe’s security reforms.

Eto likewise advocates visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, though he does not appear to have visited the shrine this year.

Abe’s visit to the shrine last December, encouraged by the right-wing, has brought about global criticism especially in light of his comments that seemed to question Japan’s wartime aggressions.

Concerns remain in Seoul because Japanese politicians have made alarming remarks in the recent year on historical and territorial issues that has added to the two countries’ diplomatic tension.

Wataru Takeshita, an LDP lawmaker whose brother was former prime minister Noboru Takeshita, was named as new minister for disaster reconstruction. He too has made controversial remarks such as in June when he said, “Until we get back Takeshima, we can’t say that the postwar system is over. When Korea holds fashion shows on Takeshima and lands on it via helicopter, it feels like my body is being torn apart.”

Korea maintains that Dokdo islets, which Japan refers to as Takeshima, is its easternmost territory.

BY KIM HYUN-KI, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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