Japan’s Abe shakes up cabinet, brings in rising star

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appoints telegenic Junichiro Koizumi as its new environment minister. (File/Reuters)
Updated 11 September 2019

Japan’s Abe shakes up cabinet, brings in rising star

  • Abe is set to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in November but is expected to step down in 2021
  • The 38-year-old environment minister is the son of former PM Junichiro Koizumi

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 fueled 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 PM 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 II, in a country when 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 and 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.
Abe retained the services of his trusted associate Taro Aso as deputy prime minister and finance minister, as well as Yoshihide Suga as the powerful chief cabinet secretary.
The PM also kept key allies and aides within the cabinet and top layers of the party to shore up his position for the next two years.
The Abe government is poised to hike its consumption tax from eight percent to 10 percent on October 1, amid fears this could act as a brake on the world’s third-largest economy.
He is also hoping to achieve his long-cherished ambition of amending Japan’s post-war constitution to change the status of the country’s Self Defense Forces.
Abe also kept LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, who has deep contacts in China, as Japan prepares for an expected state visit by Xi Jinping in 2020.
Among other key figures are former Olympic speed skater Seiko Hashimoto, who became the latest in a string of Olympic ministers ahead of the 2020 summer Games.
Hashimoto is one of just two women out of 19 in the new cabinet despite Abe’s much-heralded “womenomics” program. His previous cabinet included just one woman.
Japan ranked 125th in the 2018 World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report in terms of women’s political empowerment.
The other woman is Sanae Takaichi, appointed as interior minister. She is seen as a hard-right nationalist, who regularly visits the Yasukuni shrine housing war criminals that enrages South Korea and China.
During her previous stint as interior minister, she threatened to cut off TV news stations over perceived unfriendly coverage.


UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

Updated 15 September 2019

UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

  • Johnson said he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what
  • “The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the Mail

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has compared himself to The Incredible Hulk in a newspaper interview emphasizing his determination to take Britain out of the European Union next month.
Johnson faces considerable legal and political hurdles but told the Mail on Sunday he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the widely read tabloid, invoking the comic book and film character known for formidable but destructive strength.
Johnson remains defiant even though Parliament has passed a law requiring him to seek an extension to the deadline if no deal is reached by mid-October. He has also lost his working majority in Parliament and been told by Scotland’s highest court that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal.
Johnson portrays himself as more convinced than ever that Britain will break with the EU at the end of October.
He will have a lunchtime meeting in Luxembourg on Monday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to try to modify the Irish backstop that has been a main sticking point, but EU leaders did not seem impressed by Johnson’s invocation of the Hulk.
The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said the comments showed a lack of maturity.
“Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile,” he tweeted. “Is the EU supposed to be scared by this? The British public impressed?“
Juncker, who has downplayed hopes of a breakthrough at Monday’s meeting, also expressed alarm that many people in Britain seem to feel a British departure without a deal with the EU would be a positive thing.
“It would be terrible chaos,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio. “And we would need years to put things back in order. Anyone who loves his country, and I assume that there are still patriots in Britain, would not want to wish his country such a fate.”
The Oct. 31 deadline looms large because Johnson has not said he will seek another extension if no deal is reached, despite legislation passed by Parliament shortly before it was suspended.
Britain’s Supreme Court this week will rule on whether Johnson overstepped the law when he shut the legislature for a crucial five-week period.
The Liberal Democrats, who have been enjoying a revival, voted overwhelmingly at their party conference Sunday to end the Brexit process entirely if they come to power.
Party leader Jo Swinson said Article 50, which triggered Brexit, would be revoked if she becomes prime minister.
The party gained an important member Saturday with the defection of Sam Gyimah, a former Conservative minister. He is the sixth legislator to switch allegiance and join the Liberal Democrats this year.
Johnson also continues to take flak from former Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the 2016 referendum on Brexit.
Cameron said in an interview published Sunday that Johnson didn’t really believe in Brexit when he broke ranks and led the campaign to take Britain out of the EU. Cameron had been expecting Johnson’s help during the hard-fought campaign.
Cameron says of Johnson: “The conclusion I am left with is that he risked an outcome he didn’t believe in because it would help his political career.”
Cameron is giving interviews to gain publicity for his upcoming memoirs.