World Insights: Japan's cabinet reshuffle reflects focus on politics, security over economy-Xinhua

World Insights: Japan's cabinet reshuffle reflects focus on politics, security over economy

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2022-08-13 13:03:00

TOKYO, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida carried out a blitz reshuffle of his cabinet and the executive lineup of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) earlier this week, as intensifying public scrutiny over the party's links to the Unification Church saw approval ratings plummet.

Analysts pointed out that Kishida's welcome of the right-wing conservative forces formerly led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Wednesday's revamp, following an announcement of a tough foreign policy, has showcased an apparent focus on factional politics and national security over people's livelihood.

As soon as the new cabinet was unveiled, it was revealed that several members in the new lineup had various ties to the controversial religious group Unification Church. Meanwhile, daunting challenges, such as a new wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring consumer prices, are still painful, leaving Kishida's reshuffled cabinet facing many difficulties.


The cabinet reshuffle had been expected to take place in early September, as is customary, but analysts have said Kishida appears to be moving early to try to halt the slide in his support as soon as possible.

Key cabinet members such as Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno remained in their posts, but in general, the cabinet went through a major shakeup.

Except for Kishida, only five of the 19 cabinet members remain in their posts, and the remaining 14 are five who were brought back and nine first-timers.

The new lineup, in which seven factions in the LDP, parliamentary groups and members unaffiliated with any party factions are all involved, was considered by local media as a reflection that Kishida prioritized the power balance of the factions within the party, trying to mobilize various forces within the LDP to deal with the current difficulties.

The Kishida faction led by Kishida is only the fourth largest faction in the LDP. Previously, it has been uniting the second Motegi faction and the third Aso faction in the party to check and balance the Abe faction, the largest faction in the ruling party.

The Abe faction became leaderless after Abe's assassination on July 8, and how Kishida treated the Abe faction in this personnel changes had become the focus of public opinion.

As it turned out, four members of the Abe faction entered the new cabinet, tied with the Aso faction for the most. Although new Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi has no faction, she had received strong support from Abe.

Nobuo Kishi, Abe's younger brother and the outgoing defense minister, was moved out of the cabinet, but Kishida named him as a special adviser to the prime minister in charge of national security. Meanwhile, Koichi Hagiuda, another confidant of Abe, was moved from the industry minister post to the pivotal post of LDP policy chief.

Kishida's personnel choices reflect his desire to retain the support of the Abe faction, a necessity to ensure the longevity of his tenure as party leader and therefore prime minister, Kyodo News said.

Analysts noted that this will however give the Abe faction an important voice in the cabinet and the LDP, and Kishida's administration will continue to be constrained by Abe's influence.


Not only did Kishida put Abe's right-wing conservative forces in an important position, but his policy announcement at the press conference after the formation of the cabinet was also quite hawkish.

Kishida defines the new cabinet as one that resolutely implements policies and is capable of handling emergency situations, which refer to crises related to war and armed conflict in the political context of the Japanese word.

At the press conference, Kishida chose to introduce new Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada first, noting that fundamentally strengthening the defense capability is the most important task of the new cabinet within the year.

He then introduced Takaichi, noting that the new cabinet will push for the implementation of the bill on promoting economic security, which is in essence to follow the United States in realizing the geopolitics of economic, trade and industrial policies.

Kishida has previously said that the revision of three major security documents, including the National Security Strategy, National Defense Program Guidelines and Medium Term Defense Program, will be completed by the end of the year.

The LDP has also asked the government to raise Japan's defense spending from about 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 2 percent within five years. At the press conference, Kishida stressed that defense capacity building will be strengthened in terms of content, budget and financial resources, among other aspects.

Analysts noted that although Kishida continued to promote his so-called vision of "new capitalism," his new cabinet, based on his relevant cabinet members and policy announcement, took an obvious stance in prioritizing security over people's livelihood, and the security concept is very much infused with U.S.-style Cold War mentality.


Sharp declines in support for the Kishida cabinet were reported in multiple Japanese opinion polls since early August, amid opposition to the government's decision to hold a state funeral for Abe, questions about the ruling party's ties to the Unification Church, and discontent over the government's response to rising prices and the COVID-19 pandemic.

After Abe's assassination, the Kishida government trumpeted his so-called achievements and decided to hold a state funeral for him in late September. However, the suspect in the assassination of Abe, Tetsuya Yamagami, confessed that his mother had been brainwashed by the Unification Church, which caused the family to collapse, and that he killed Abe, who was reportedly close to the church, in revenge for the group.

The misdeeds of the Unification Church, such as exploiting its followers by selling "spiritual goods" to them, have become the focus of public opinion. Japanese media also dug up that Abe and his family had been friends with the Unification Church for a long time, and that the LDP, especially many politicians, had various connections with the Unification Church.

The revelations have led to a marked shift in public opinion over the assassination of Abe, dragging down the approval ratings of Kishida's cabinet. According to the latest polls, among Japanese people, opposers of Abe's state funeral outnumbered those in favor.

One of the aims of Kishida's blitz cabinet reshuffling was to cut the losses in time and purge the cabinet of members close to the Unification Church.

However, as soon as the new cabinet was unveiled, several cabinet members were reported to have ties with the Unification Church, which means that controversies over the Unification Church and Abe's state funeral are expected to continue to erode popular support for Kishida's cabinet.

In addition, a new wave of COVID-19 is still raging in Japan. According to the health ministry, the number of daily confirmed cases in Japan surpassed 250,000 for the first time on Wednesday, the highest since the outbreak. All sub-national governments logged serious shortages of hospital beds, with many COVID-19 patients getting worse and even dying because they could not be admitted to the hospital in time.

Analysts believe that although Kishida's new cabinet intends to prioritize security, it is likely to encounter a new dilemma in the face of prices, energy, COVID-19 and people's livelihood.