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Can Noda's new Cabinet be entrusted to revive Japan?

Publication Date : 03-10-2012

 

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has given favourable treatment to lawmakers seeking Cabinet posts and obviously wanted to prevent more members from leaving his party ahead of the upcoming House of Representatives election. The new lineup is characterised by such an inward-looking approach.

Noda launched his third reshuffled Cabinet on Monday. The purpose of the reshuffle, he said, was "to further deepen cooperation between the government and the ruling parties and to strengthen the Cabinet's functions".

The prime minister used a certain amount of ingenuity in the reshuffle by retaining core ministers, such as Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada, and appointing lawmakers who held executive posts in the Democratic Party of Japan to key posts.

However, concern cannot be dispelled over whether the reshuffle will serve its purpose.

Rework nuclear plant policy

When considering future national strategy and revival of Japan's economy, we wonder, first of all, why Noda retained Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano, who was responsible for allowing the nation's nuclear power plant and energy policy to stray off course.

Edano played a central role when the government drew up its innovative energy and environmental strategy, which set a target of zero nuclear power plants operating in the 2030s.

Concerning this target, Edano was optimistic, saying, "As long as it's not done the wrong way, it will have a positive impact on the economy."

His remark seems to ignore the various issues that concern business circles, such as the impact mothballing nuclear power plants would have on the Japanese economy, job losses caused by the hollowing-out of industry and a decrease in the number of nuclear power engineers.

Under the circumstances, Edano can only be accused of irresponsibility as the economy, trade and industry minister has to ensure a stable supply of electricity as well as industrial development.

A wide range of cooperation from the business world is essential in developing technological innovations for renewable energy.

Former DPJ Policy Research Committee Chairman Seiji Maehara, who assumed the position of state minister for national policy, and economic and fiscal policy, pushed the government to decide on the zero nuclear power policy as head of the party's Energy and Environment Research Committee.

At a press conference after assuming his new post, Maehara said, "I'll promote a strategy to increase the nation's power, and work out plans for it." However, how will he overcome deflation and ensure the nation's growth while pushing for a zero nuclear power policy?

Mapping out a mid- and long-term basic energy plan will be a huge task.

In addition to opposition from the business community, the United States, which concluded a cooperation agreement on nuclear energy with Japan, has also expressed strong concern over Japan's nuclear power plant policy. It is crucial for Japan to improve its relationship with the United States.

Maehara, who once served as foreign minister, will find his ability to coordinate policy tested again.

Tanaka's appointment strange

The appointment of Makiko Tanaka as education, culture, sports, science and technology minister is mystifying.

Tanaka assumed the post of foreign minister during the administration of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, but it soon became apparent she lacked even a fundamental knowledge of diplomacy. Her frequent aberrant behaviour in dealing with the ministry's bureaucrats led to diplomacy becoming totally dysfunctional.

It is obvious she lacks what it takes to serve as a Cabinet minister. Of great concern is that she will lose control again and cause national politics to become chaotic. Noda said he placed great expectations on her communication skills. But if Tanaka's appointment is intended to help the DPJ in its campaign for the next general election, it would be like treating the general public with derision.

An analysis of the list of Cabinet members who were named for the first time indicates their appointments were made as rewards for supporting Noda's reelection as DPJ president and aimed at promoting intraparty unity.

Keishu Tanaka, one of the party's vice presidents and a former member of the now defunct Democratic Socialist Party, was appointed justice minister, while Wakio Mitsui and Ikko Nakatsuka, who both had close connections with former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, were named health, labor and welfare minister and state minister for financial services, respectively.

Noda's three rivals in the DPJ presidential election and their supporters received no Cabinet posts. It seems likely that consideration will be given to their groups in appointing senior vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

Intraparty discord

However, intraparty discord shows no sign of dissipating, and Noda will continue to be pressured over his management of the party.

The prime minister stressed the need for cooperation between the government and ruling parties. His naming of former DPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Koriki Jojima as finance minister is symbolic in this respect.

The appointment could serve as an indication that Jojima's connections with the opposition parties will be used to help pass through the Diet a special bill to enable the issuance of deficit-covering government bonds and steadily promote integrated reform of social security and tax systems.

Jojima's capabilities as finance minister will be put to the test during a meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank scheduled in Tokyo next week.

Consistency important

It is natural for Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and Defence Minister Satoshi Morimoto to retain their posts given the rigorous international environment surrounding Japan.

Negotiations have just started with Russia to resolve the territorial dispute over four islands off Hokkaido. So have talks with North Korea over the abduction issue. It is also urgent to improve relations with China and South Korea, which have been strained over the Senkaku Islands and Takeshima island, respectively.

Six MV-22 Ospreys flew to the US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture from the US Iwakuni Air Station on Monday. It is natural that Gemba pointed out the tilt-rotor transport aircraft are "indispensable for security in Japan and East Asia as they are key equipment of the marine corps."

Gemba and Morimoto must make all-out efforts to promote the relocation of the Futenma Air Station and further strengthen the Japan-US alliance. This will be necessary even as Japan rebuilds diplomatic ties vis-a-vis Beijing and Seoul.

 

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