TOKYO – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his Cabinet on Tuesday, retaining key diplomatic and economy posts as Japan tackles tough trade talks with the U.S.
Abe was re-elected in September to head the Liberal Democratic Party for a third term, paving the way to serve as Japan’s leader for up to three more years.
Tuesday’s reshuffle, Abe’s fourth since taking office in 2012, kept Foreign Minister Taro Kono, Finance Minister Taro Aso, Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko – core members of Abe’s government who have worked on tough negotiations on trade and other issues with their increasingly demanding American counterparts.
For defence minister, Abe appointed Takeshi Iwaya, a ruling party national security expert who is expected to follow his policy seeking a stronger military role for Japan.
“I will pursue economic and diplomatic policies built on a stable foundation after five years and nine months of accomplishments,” Abe told a news conference Tuesday.
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Abe has to fortify his influence within the party after a weaker-than-expected showing in the leadership election. He renewed more than half of the 19 Cabinet members, mostly his confidantes and supporters, to help his push for a constitutional revision, though hurdles remain high. Among them is Satsuki Katayama, the only woman in the Cabinet, appointed as local revitalization and gender equality minister.
Abe, 64, has said he is determined to use his last term to pursue his long-sought amendment to Japan’s U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution, seen by many conservatives as a humiliation imposed after Japan’s defeat in World War II.
Abe said his party is working to submit a draft revision to parliament later this year and that he appointed Hakubun Shimomura, an ultra-conservative former education minister, to head the effort.
“I would like to see the discussion accelerated,” Abe said.
He and his party want to rush through a revision while their ruling coalition holds two-thirds majorities in both houses _ a requirement for proposing a revision subject to a national referendum. The next parliamentary election is due next summer.
Abe wants to add a clause to Article 9 of the constitution, which bans the use of force in settling international disputes, to explicitly permit the existence of Japan’s military, now called the Self-Defence Force.
He faces intensifying trade friction with the U.S. that could shake his friendly relations with President Donald Trump. Abe also wants to settle island disputes with Russia and sign a peace treaty formally ending World War II hostilities.
Abe repeated that he also seeks to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to resolve bilateral disputes, including the decades-old problem of Japanese citizens abducted to the North.
At home, he faces political challenges such as dealing with Japan’s aging and declining population and a twice-delayed consumption tax hike to 10 per cent that will likely hit economic growth. He’s also tasked with preparing for and carrying out a royal succession in the spring.