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Abe reshuffles Cabinet to boost support, picks Kono as top envoy

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his Cabinet Thursday in an
attempt to regain public support hurt by a series of scandals
including allegations against him, appointing veteran lawmaker Taro
Kono as foreign minister and reinstating Itsunori Onodera as defense
minister.

The new lineup of the Cabinet contains some old faces including
Finance Minister Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga,
the top government spokesman, apparently mirroring Abe's hope for
stable policy management.

As a result, the new Cabinet consists of 13 members with current
or previous ministerial experience, and just six newcomers, with few
surprise appointments.

Kono, who served as minister in charge of administrative reform,
assumed the foreign affairs portfolio, a role also held by his father
Yohei.

Yohei Kono, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, is
known for issuing in 1993 in his then capacity as chief Cabinet
secretary a landmark apology to "comfort women" forced to work in
wartime Japanese military brothels. The issue has been the source of
a long-standing diplomatic row between Tokyo and Seoul.

The latest Cabinet overhaul is the fourth since Abe returned to
power in 2012.

Ahead of the reshuffle, Abe, who heads the ruling Liberal
Democratic Party, revamped the lineup of party executives, while
retaining Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai.

In a move that may be seen as positioning for a future
leadership tilt, Foreign and Defense Minister Fumio Kishida, who is
viewed as a front-runner to succeed Abe, saw his wish to become
chairman of the LDP's policymaking body fulfilled.

Kishida's new assignment would give him time in a high-level
internal party role, allowing him to gain experience that is
traditionally required of all leaders.

Kishida temporarily took on responsibility for the defense
portfolio following Tomomi Inada's abrupt resignation Friday in
connection with a data coverup scandal involving Japanese
peacekeepers in South Sudan.

The reshuffle of the Cabinet and the LDP leadership comes
exactly a year after the previous overhaul on Aug. 3 last year. Abe's
approval ratings have plummeted to the lowest level in his second
stint as premier.

Veteran LDP lawmaker Onodera returned to the defense minister
position, having held the post for nearly two years from December
2012.

Former agriculture minister Yoshimasa Hayashi became education
minister, while Toshimitsu Motegi doubles as economic revitalization
minister and minister in charge of human resources development -- a
newly created post -- moving from LDP policy chief.

Former environment minister Shunichi Suzuki was picked as
minister in charge of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Abe appointed Seiko Noda, who had served as chair of the LDP
General Council, as internal affairs minister, replacing Sanae
Takaichi.

The selection of Noda apparently reflects Abe's attempt to show
the party's unity as the former postal minister challenged Abe for
the party leadership in 2015.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko, who doubles
as minister for economic cooperation with Russia, and transport
minister Keiichi Ishii, the only Cabinet member from the LDP's junior
coalition partner the Komeito party, remain in their posts.

Newcomers include House of Councillors lawmaker Masaji
Matsuyama, who serves as minister for promoting dynamic engagement of
all citizens, and others.

Yoko Kamikawa, an LDP lower house member, takes up the position
of justice minister again.

Despite Abe's key policy of promoting women's empowerment, the
number of female ministers fell to two from three, including Inada,
who has already left the Cabinet. (Aug. 3)


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C in front) and his new Cabinet ministers pose for group photos at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on Aug. 3, 2017. Abe reshuffled his Cabinet earlier in the day in an attempt to regain public support hurt by a series of scandals including a cronyism allegation against him. (Kyodo)