22.08.2022 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Fumio Kishida “Reformatted” the Cabinet of Japan

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On August 10, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the new personal composition of the country’s 19-minister government. Only five members of the previous cabinet, including Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, retain their previous posts. Of the 14 new ministers, nine had never been at this level of government, the other five had previously been part of some governmental configuration.

Of these, the return to the post of Minister of Defense, Yasukazu Hamada, who had previously occupied it in 2008-2009 as part of the Taro Aso cabinet.

It is pointed out that the radical changes in Fumio Kishida’s government came just nine months after it was formed following another victory for the Liberal Democratic Party in the autumn 2021 general elections to the lower house of parliament.

But all the same, in the eyes of the population, the radicality of the changes in the current government has apparently proved insufficient (perhaps overdue). A survey conducted by the Yomiury Shimbun newspaper immediately after the formation of the new cabinet found that the cabinet’s approval rating had dropped by 6% compared to a poll two weeks earlier (i.e., under the previous cabinet) and had reached its lowest level (51%) since Fumio Kishida took over as prime minister.

And here it is hard not to take the opportunity to reflect once again on the ancient generalized theme of “people and power”. It has many ramifications and has gained particular relevance in recent years due to the turbulent events in a number of Middle Eastern countries, Myanmar, Ukraine, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In the author’s opinion, they are all a diagnosis, to put it neatly, of a state of disadvantage in a global environment that is undergoing a radical transformation. It is a process that has been launched with unclear objectives and is moving in an unclear direction.

The costs of this process are increasingly being borne by the average citizen of the world, who until recently looked up to those who governed their own country in their name with hope. And if he not only fails to see any positive trends in the situation around him, but, on the contrary, observes only negative trends in it, then he cannot help but wonder: what in the world are these guys he voted for doing in a growing crisis?

What? They are supporters of some kind of “Unity Church”, i.e. a strange movement that originated in the mid-50s in South Korea? The same one with which not only former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (as well as his grandfather, i.e. Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi), but also his killer, had an ambiguous relationship? The citizen further learns that many other members of the government are in the same “kind of relationship” with the same “Unity Church”.

In this way a “clear” causal link is formed in his eyes between increasing domestic problems and what some of the ruling political elite do (it should be emphasized, in their spare time), which, of course, should have no place in the leadership of Japan. This is what 85% of the country’s inhabitants believe.

The “reformatting” of Fumio Kishida’s government under discussion is actually a reaction to this kind of sentiment. This, again, was only partially welcomed by the electorate, because the new government also included supporters of the “Unity Church”. This is probably the reason why the new Kishida’s cabinet continued to fall in popularity.

Nevertheless, since no major domestic political events of a national scale (such as general elections) are expected in the near future, the new government has, generally speaking, free hands in terms of approaching all sorts of urgent domestic and external problems. While there is some skepticism about such a positive outlook (apparently based on the results of the final period of Shinzo Abe’s premiership and Yoshihide Suga’s one-year tenure in office and the first months of Fumio Kishida’s premiership), it is still noted that the ministries responsible for these problems are headed by people who already had “specialized” work experience.

The same Y. Hamada, who again occupied her post of Minister of Defense during the sharply deteriorating situation in the surrounding country, is mentioned among them. In addition, by the end of this year, the agency he leads (apparently in collaboration with several others) is to produce three long-term policy documents. One of them will be the National Security Strategy, which will replace the first such document in Japan’s postwar history, drafted in 2013. The other two will deal specifically with military construction for periods of five and ten years.

With the next (“seventh”) wave of COVID-19 mass disease (manifesting itself as contamination by new strains), and the discovery of the first “monkey pox” cases, the Ministry of Health is of particular importance in domestic political life. It is headed for the third time by Katsunobu Kato. Incidentally, in the middle of the last decade he headed a special government agency in charge of the continuing decline in fertility in Japan, which is rarely in the media spotlight, although it is referred to as a “potential national disaster”.

The economy is affected by a set of internal and external problems that will involve several agencies, with some coordination by the LDP leadership, the government secretariat and the prime minister himself. In this regard, attention is drawn to the appointment of Koichi. Haguida, who has held various ministerial positions in several governments, as head of the LDP’s Policy Research Council. He was most recently Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. In the new cabinet, Yasutoshi Nishimura, who had previously held various government positions, took over the post. Yasutoshi Nishimura is also responsible for economic relations with Russia.

The Ministry of Economic Security, established in October 2021, is headed by Sanae Takahichi (one of the two women in the new government), an experienced statesperson who has also previously held various ministerial positions. Incidentally, the scope of her current responsibilities will surely be reflected in the new version of the National Security Strategy.

As for the foreign policy of the renewed Kishida’s government, Yoshimasa Hayashi’s tenure as foreign minister indicates that no radical changes are to be expected.

Finally, it should be noted that while it is true that domestic political turbulence on a national scale is not yet foreseeable in Japan, there may well be trouble at a relatively local level for the central government. It could be caused, for example, by the outcome of the September 11 gubernatorial elections in Okinawa Prefecture. For one of the sources of headaches for Japan’s central government, the current governor of the prefecture, Denny Tamaki, is going to take part in them.

Since his election four years ago, he has repeatedly raised the issue of relocating the US Marine Corps air base, which was established 75 years ago on the outskirts of a small village of Ginowan and now stands in the center of the (not small) city of the same name. Denny Tamaki opposes its relocation elsewhere on Okinawa (as envisaged in the relevant government project agreed with the US side) and calls for it to be removed from the island altogether. “Somewhere”. This is against the backdrop of Tokyo’s constant official rhetoric about the “cornerstone nature” of the political and military alliance with Washington.

The first results of these elections may be one reason to assess the real consequences of the “reformatting” of Kishida’s cabinet.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

 


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