The change in executives in Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)
was twinned with a cabinet reshuffle in which Abe gave the health
and welfare portfolio to a reform-minded lawmaker, kept core
ministers and boosted the number of women in an effort to polish his
In a move welcomed by Tokyo stock market players, Abe drafted
Yasuhisa Shiozaki, 63, a proponent of an overhaul of Japan's
Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), to head the ministry of
labor, health and welfare, which oversees GPIF.
The fund is finalizing plans to boost the weighting of domestic
stocks in its portfolio.
Abe also gave women almost a third of the posts in his 18-minister
cabinet to show his commitment to promoting women as part of his
"Abenomics" growth strategy.
But he retained powerful cabinet members such as Chief Cabinet
Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Finance Minister Taro Aso, 73, Economics
Minister Akira Amari, 65, and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, 57,
signaling policy continuity.
Abe's new line-up faces a number of challenges, including how to
repair ties with China that have been frayed by rows over disputed
territory and Japan's wartime history, and whether to go ahead with
a planned sales tax rise next year despite signs the economy is
"A positive economic cycle is kicking off," Abe told a news
conference after the new line-up was announced.
"We're only halfway through in reforms and we need to deal with new
challenges. I reshuffled my cabinet so that we can tackle these
challenges boldly and vigorously," he added. "The biggest challenge
now is ... to revive the regions of Japan."
In a bid for party unity, the hawkish Abe tapped outgoing Justice
Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, his predecessor as LDP leader, for the
key party post of secretary-general, the LDP's de facto election
Tanigaki, 69, is from a moderate wing of the LDP that favors better
ties with China. He was also an architect of a plan to hike the
sales tax in two stages to curb Japan's huge public debt.
Implementation of the second stage is now in doubt due to a string
of gloomy economic data.
Veteran lawmaker Toshihiro Nikai, 75, who also has close ties with
China, was appointed to a second top party post. Outgoing
administrative reform minister Tomomi Inada, 55, a close
conservative ally of Abe, became LDP policy chief.
"He is sending a strong message to China that he wants to improve
ties. Not only Tanigaki but Nikai have good ties with China," said
political analyst Atsuo Ito.
MIXED MESSAGE ON WOMEN?
Abe has signaled that he hopes to meet Chinese leader Xi at an
Asia-Pacific leaders gathering in Beijing in November.
"Japan and China both have responsibility for international peace
and prosperity. It is vital to develop a forward-looking,
cooperative relationship on common issues confronting international
society," Suga told a news conference as China marked the
anniversary of its World War Two victory over Japan.
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Former vice defense minister Akinori Eto takes over from moderate
conservative Itsunori Onodera as defense minister. He also assumes a
new post responsible for national security reform as Abe pushes
ahead with efforts to ease the limits of Japan's pacifist
constitution on its military.
The little-known Eto, who is close to Abe, belongs to a group of
lawmakers advocating visits to Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Shrine
for war dead, although his office said he has not visited the shrine
Abe's pilgrimage there in December outraged China, where the shrine
is viewed as a symbol of Japan's past militarism. Abe has since
avoided visiting the shrine in person.
Eto has policy expertise, political analyst Ito said, but added: "He
will not have a lot of influence. The message from the appointments
to the two party posts is stronger."
Abe has not revamped his cabinet since returning to office in
December 2012, a record for a post-World War Two premier. That means
dozens of veterans in his male-dominated LDP were eager to be tapped
for a post.
Abe, who has made a push to get more women into the workforce a
linchpin of his "Abenomics" growth plan, appointed five female
ministers, equaling a record set by Junichiro Koizimi in 2001.
Yuko Obuchi, 40, daughter of a former prime minister and mother of
two, takes over as minister of trade and industry, while LDP policy
chief Sanae Takaichi, 53, an Abe ally and former minister for gender
equality in his first cabinet in 2006, was named minister of
internal affairs and communications.
His message, however, was somewhat mixed since some of the
appointees, including Haruko Arimura, new minister in charge of
women's issues and the falling birthrate, are known for promoting
highly conservative, traditional family values.
Abe, who surged to power promising to revive the economy and bolster
Japan's security stance in the face of a rising China, has seen his
support slip to around 50 percent, still high for a Japanese premier
but off early peaks of around 60 percent.
(Additional reporting by Leika Kihara, Yuko Yoshikawa, Elaine Lies
and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Paul Tait and Jeremy Laurence)
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