Japan PM Abe keeps key ministers in posts, taps one woman for cabinet

Japan's new Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya speaks to the media at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kept key ministers in their posts in a cabinet reshuffle in Tuesday, including finance, trade and foreign affairs, while appointing just one woman to the new lineup.

Abe, who has made female empowerment a high profile policy, tapped Satsuki Katayama, a conservative lawmaker and former finance official, as minister of regional revitalization and gender equality, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in announcing the cabinet.

Abe, who returned to office in December 2012 after a troubled 2006-2007 term as premier, was re-elected leader of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) last month, putting him on track to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

Abe’s reshuffle appeared to focus on stability as he prepares to push ahead with his controversial attempt to revise the post-war, pacifist constitution, political experts said.

His allies Suga and Finance Minister Taro Aso were reappointed.

Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko, Foreign Minister Taro Kono, and Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who handled difficult trade talks with Washington, also kept their posts.

“He’s appointed old friends and reliable allies and kept people in key portfolios to buy stability,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus.

He added that the appointment of just one female minister in a 19-member cabinet “exposes the empty grandstanding on ‘Womenomics’”. The previous cabinet had two female members.

Abe chose Takeshi Iwaya, a former parliamentary vice defense minister, to replace Itsunori Onodera as defense minister. Iwaya was known recently for backing the legalization of casinos in Japan.

Close ally Akira Amari, a former economics minister who resigned to take responsibility for a funding scandal in 2016, was appointed LDP executive for election strategy ahead of critical upper house elections next year, party officials said.

Abe has made clear that he wants to forge ahead with his politically divisive plan to amend the constitution’s Article 9 to clarify the ambiguous status of its military, known as the Self-Defense Forces (SDF).

But his immediate challenges are to manage fractious trade ties with Washington and keep an economic recovery on track.

Business confidence among Japan’s big manufacturers worsened in the September quarter to hit the lowest level in nearly a year, a closely watched central bank survey showed on Monday, as firms felt the pinch from rising raw material costs and a string of natural disasters that disrupted production.

Last week, Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to open new talks on a bilateral trade agreement that would see Washington refraining from raising tariffs on Japanese car exports for now, but Trump could revive the threat if progress is slow.

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