Noda sends signal to China with cabinet shake-up

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2012, 4:26am


Japan's unpopular prime minister reshuffled his cabinet yesterday, picking a woman with Beijing-friendly credentials and a hawk who recently engaged in a war of words with Beijing.

Yoshihiko Noda also named a relative unknown as finance minister but kept many key posts unchanged in a bid to balance continuity and change ahead of an expected general election.

New education minister Makiko Tanaka is the daughter of former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, who normalised diplomatic ties with Beijing 40 years ago. Her family is known for its close ties with China, and she was in Beijing just last week as part of a parliamentary delegation.

Noda named party heavyweight Seiji Maehara minister of national strategy and economy - a powerful brief that covers everything from fiscal policy to space matters. Maehara drew fire from China last week for publicly calling it "a country that fabricated and distorted history".

He was foreign minister when China and Japan were at loggerheads over the arrest of a Chinese trawler captain near the waters of the Diaoyu islands, or Senkakus to the Japanese, in 2010.

Takehiko Yamamoto, a professor of international politics at Waseda University, said Tanaka's appointment was intended as diplomatic balm.

"This is clearly a signal … to China, no matter what the prime minister says. China considers her a very important person … Tanaka is expected to improve ties from the sidelines," he said.

But Yamamoto also added that Maehara's promotion was the flip side of Noda's decision to elevate Tanaka and was done to please party hawks.

"You cannot expect Tanaka to convince the conservative camp within the DPJ [on China], so Maehara is there to balance out [Tanaka's] appointment," he said.

Jiang Lifeng , a former director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Noda's policies towards China would not change despite the new appointments.

Zhou Yongsheng , a Japan studies expert at the China Foreign Affairs University, said Maehara's appointment meant the new cabinet might take a tougher stance on economic measures in dealing with China.

Noda denied that Tanaka's appointment had anything to do with the island spat, citing her experience in science and technology as vital to her new role. "There is no way I decide on who will be education and science minister because of Japan-China issues," he said.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and defence chief Satoshi Morimoto retained their posts, while Finance Minister Jun Azumi was replaced by the relatively unknown Koriki Jojima.

Mikitaka Masuyama, a professor at Japan's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said Jojima was a respected negotiator.