Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today was set to announce new defence and foreign ministers as part of a cabinet revamp he hopes will stem a decline in public support after a series of scandals and missteps. Political blueblood Abe, in office since late December 2012, has pushed a nationalist agenda alongside a massive policy effort to end years of on-off deflation and rejuvenate the world’s third-largest economy. But he has seen public support rates plummet in the past few months over an array of political troubles, including allegations of favouritism to a friend in a business deal — which Abe strongly denies. Abe will reportedly reappoint former defence minister Itsunori Onodera to the post after close political ally and fellow hawk Tomomi Inada resigned last week following a scandal at the ministry over the handling of military documents. He is also set to tap as ministers some who have opposed his policies, including Taro Kono, the son of a dovish former foreign minister known for issuing a 1993 apology as chief cabinet secretary over Japan’s use of “comfort women” — a euphemism for sex slavery — in World War II.
US-educated Kono is set to replace Fumio Kishida, who served as foreign minister since Abe came to power. Kishida, often tapped as a future prime minister, is moving to a top post in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. “I deeply regret that my shortcomings have invited this situation,” a chastened Abe said ahead of the formal announcement of the cabinet changes. Abe’s LDP suffered a drubbing in local Tokyo elections last month, which analysts and newspapers blamed on an increasing “arrogance” on the part of the prime minister. Kono, 54, is known as an independent-minded, anti-nuclear power advocate, in sharp contrast to Abe’s support for atomic energy. Meanwhile, Seiko Noda, 56, once hailed as Japan’s most likely first female prime minister and who once tried to challenge Abe for the party leadership, was expected to serve as internal affairs minister.
Returning defence chief Onodera, 57, held the post for nearly two years until September 2014, and has vowed to restore unity and confidence within the ministry. His expected appointment also comes amid rising tensions surrounding North Korea’s missile development. Pyongyang launched its latest missile late Friday, just hours after the US and Japan moved to step up sanctions against it following its earlier test of an ICBM capable of reaching parts of the US. Meanwhile, Abe was seen leaving some key posts, such as finance minister and chief cabinet secretary, unchanged.