Ex-soldier named Japan's defence minister

Ex-soldier named Japan's defence minister
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has a Diet member's pin attached to his jacket at the Parliament in Tokyo.

The only new face in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet unveiled yesterday is the defence minister, Mr Gen Nakatani, 57.

Mr Nakatani was a former officer in the Self Defence Force (SDF) and served as head of the Defence Agency - the precursor of the current Defence Ministry - from April 2001 to September 2002 under then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who riled China with his visits to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine.

Mr Nakatani is said to favour Japan having a pre-emptive strike capability, which may not sit well with China.

The two neighbours are embroiled in disputes, including one over a group of islets in the East China Sea.

He replaces scandal-tainted Akinori Eto, who was appointed to the post only in September.

Reports said Mr Eto had declined to continue as defence minister.

But it is likely that he was asked to step down over allegations that he had accepted money from a fund-managing organisation in violation of the political funds law.

Such a scandal could provide fodder for the opposition to hold up vital deliberations on controversial security Bills that are set to begin when Parliament reconvenes next month.

The revision of security laws to enable the SDF, Japan's de facto military, to go to the aid of friendly countries that are under attack ranks high on Mr Abe's political agenda.

While Mr Eto's departure minimises the possibility of disruption to parliamentary proceedings, it does not mean the Cabinet will be completely free from scandal.

Farm Minister Koya Nishikawa, Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki and Trade Minister Yoichi Miyazawa are also dogged by allegations of financial improprieties.

Arguably the most serious of the three cases is that of Mr Nishikawa, who is said to have used funds to benefit his relatives.

Yesterday's inauguration of the new Cabinet followed the Dec 14 general election, which gave Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner, Komeito, a two-thirds majority in the Lower House.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Abe was re-elected Prime Minister by lawmakers during a special session of Parliament.

Reviving the economy is Mr Abe's most urgent task.

It was said the reason for retaining almost all his ministers was to reduce delays in implementing his so-called "Abenomics" growth formula, which counts on a mix of easy monetary policy, government spending and structural reforms to boost the economy.

The minister for national strategy and economic policy, Mr Akira Amari, told reporters yesterday:

"The No 1 priority of the administration is to get the economy out of over 15 years of deflation that is causing the foundations of various institutions to collapse, and the economy to contract."

The implementation of Abenomics is only halfway through, he pointed out, adding: "Our chief mission is to bring that process to completion."

Abenomics has been criticised for benefiting mostly large export- oriented companies.

Smaller firms have been ravaged by the surging cost of imported materials due to the weak yen, which has lost nearly 30 per cent of its value against the US dollar since Mr Abe came to power in December 2012.

A sales tax hike from 5 per cent to 8 per cent and a 16-month decline in real wages also dampened domestic consumption.

As a stop-gap measure, the government is due to announce later this week a 3.5 trillion yen (S$38.4 billion) stimulus package that will include aid for small and medium- sized businesses and subsidies for low-income households.

This article was first published on December 25, 2014.
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