September 12, 2019
TOKYO: Japan’s Shinzo Abe on Wednesday appointed new foreign and defense ministers and promoted a popular rising political star, in a cabinet reshuffle that fuelled speculation over the prime minister’s successor.
The spectacular appointment as Environment minister of the telegenic Shinjiro Koizumi, the 38-year-old son of much-loved former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, set tongues wagging in Tokyo political classes as the Abe era draws to a close.
“Abe intends to start an open race to pick the next prime minister or even the one after that,” said SMBC Nikko Securities chief market economist Yoshimasa Maruyama.
A darling of the Japanese media, Shinjiro Koizumi received blanket coverage for his recent marriage to television broadcaster Christel Takigawa, which was announced at the prime minister’s office.
He is the third-youngest minister appointed to the cabinet in Japan since the end of World War 2, in a country where seniority is prized in politics and many other walks of life.
Despite intense media spotlight, he has been coy on expressing his view on the issues of the day and there will be close scrutiny over his policies on nuclear power, particularly on whether he will break with his father’s anti-nuclear stance.
Abe is set to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in November but is expected to step down at the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership election in 2021. The jostling for position is already beginning.
Japan’s new Foreign minister is Toshimitsu Motegi, who was promoted as a reward for his work in negotiating a trade deal with the United States.
Outgoing foreign minister Taro Kono was shifted to the defense portfolio, in a move seen as reinforcing Tokyo’s hard line toward South Korea at a time of worsening ties between the two neighbors.
Kono, who has amused commentators by interacting with people on social media — even offering relationship advice at times — struck a hard line during the recent spat with Seoul that has infected their trade and security ties.
Motegi, 63, is a Harvard-educated political veteran who worked as a McKinsey consultant before winning a lower house seat in 1993.
Analysts do not expect the shake-up to herald significant changes to Japan’s diplomatic policy, which is managed largely by the prime minister’s office.
But it may also put Motegi in the starting blocks in the race to succeed Abe, noted Tobias Harris, an expert on Japanese politics at consultancy Teneo.
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