China-Japan relations

Japan's cabinet reshuffle 'designed to ease China tensions'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 October, 2012, 11:17am

Japan's prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, is expected to reshuffle his cabinet today, with changes aimed at cooling a raging maritime dispute with China.

Commentators say Noda's reshuffle is also an attempt to boost his waning popularity and reinvigorate his government after a costly battle to pass tax laws.

Noda may bring Beijing-friendly Makiko Tanaka, 68, into the cabinet, the Asahi Shimbun daily reported yesterday.

Tanaka - daughter of former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, who normalised diplomatic ties with Beijing 40 years ago - has warm links with China, which has been jousting with Japan over disputed East China Sea islands.

Noda is considering appointing Tanaka to a ministerial post to signal to Beijing Tokyo's intention of repairing the damaged relationship, the Asahi said.

He will probably retain Koichiro Gemba as foreign minister to provide continuity as Japan tangles with China and South Korea over separate territorial rows, the Asahi and Jiji Press said.

The stand-off with China over uninhabited islands, known as the Diaoyus in China and the Senkakus in Japan, has drawn a furious response from Beijing and set off violent protests in several Chinese cities.

South Korea has its own territorial dispute with Japan over islands called Dokdo by Seoul and Takeshima by Tokyo.

Another issue of the reshuffle is who will replace Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who is being propelled into a top party post.

Noda is under pressure to call a general election this year after he offered his opponents a vague pledge to dissolve parliament "sometime soon" in exchange for their support on a pet project to raise sales tax. But woeful opinion poll numbers have left many in his divided party fearing for their seats, with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party likely to win a national ballot.

Japan's main opposition party chose former premier Shinzo Abe as its new leader last week.