Japan PM adds China balm in cabinet reshuffle

October 1, 2012 7:21 am
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Japan’s PM Yoshihiko Noda looks to move past a damaging row with China and boost his flagging popularity/AFP
TOKYO, Oct 1 – Japan’s unpopular prime minister reshuffled his cabinet Monday, picking a woman with Beijing-friendly credentials in what commentators said signalled his hope to move past a damaging territorial row.

Yoshihiko Noda named a relative unknown as finance minister, but kept several key positions unchanged as he seeks a balance of continuity and change ahead of an expected general election.

Noda, whose Democratic Party of Japan governs in coalition with a smaller grouping told reporters the changes would boost his government.

“This is a reshuffle that will help the government and the ruling parties cooperate to address a number of issues we are facing domestically and diplomatically and further strengthen the function of the cabinet.”

Makiko Tanaka becomes education minister. The job is relatively powerless and has little directly to do with China, but commentators say her appointment is an attempt to telegraph Noda’s willingness to heal diplomatic wounds.

Japan and China have clashed repeatedly over the last few months about the Tokyo-administered Senkaku islands, which China claims as the Diaoyus.

Tanaka is the daughter of former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, who normalised diplomatic ties with Beijing 40 years ago last Saturday, and has warm links with China, where her family is held in high regard.

She was in Beijing last week as part of a cross-party parliamentary delegation.

Her short stint as foreign minister under popular prime minister Junichiro Koizumi was marked by rows with bureaucrats. It is chiefly remembered for the tearful speech she gave after being sacked in 2002.

Noda denied her appointment was anything to do with the island spat, citing her experience in science and technology matters as vital to her new role.

“This is a reshuffle that will help the government and the ruling parties cooperate to address a number of issues we are facing domestically and diplomatically and further strengthen the function of the cabinet.”

“I didn’t select her for foreign minister,” he told reporters. “There is no way I decide on who will be education and science minister because of Japan-China issues.”

However Takehiko Yamamoto, professor of international politics at Waseda University, said there was no doubt that her appointment was intended as diplomatic balm.

“This is clearly a signal and message to China, no matter what the prime minister says,” he told AFP. “China considers her to be a very important person.

“Education minister is a key post that oversees cultural exchanges between Japan and China, and Tanaka is expected to improve ties from the sidelines.”

Tanaka is the only female member of the cabinet and one of only a reasonably small number of women in politics in a country where gender equality lags many other developed countries.

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