Abe’s reshuf­fle de­signed for con­sti­tu­tional re­vi­sion: ex­perts

The Korea Times - - ISSUE TODAY - By Park Ji-won jw­[email protected]­re­atimes.co.kr

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s re­cent cab­i­net reshuf­fle, keep­ing his sup­port­ers in key min­is­te­rial posts, was likely aimed at seek­ing con­sti­tu­tional re­form, an­a­lysts said.

Abe re­placed 17 min­is­ters out of 19 posts in his Cab­i­net on Aug. 11, ap­point­ing for­mer For­eign Min­is­ter Taro Kono as de­fense min­is­ter and Toshim­itsu Motegi as for­eign min­is­ter. Along with the two aides, Abe also ap­pointed Shin­jiro Koizumi, son of charis­matic for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Ju­nichiro Koizumi, as en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter, Isshu Su­gawara as econ­omy min­is­ter and Koichi Hag­iuda as ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter.

Kono, a for­mer for­eign min­is­ter, is ex­pected to han­dle the Gen­eral Se­cu­rity of Mil­i­tary In­for­ma­tion Agree­ment (GSOMIA) be­tween Seoul and Tokyo, which has been one of the key is­sues be­tween the two and the U.S. as it has been a symbol of tri­lat­eral mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion against the tri­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion be­tween North Korea, China and Rus­sia.

Motegi, who is known as an eco­nomic ex­pert with ex­pe­ri­ence in the U.S. and has an ex­ten­sive net­work with U.S. of­fi­cials, was likely pro­moted for his role in pro­mot­ing re­la­tions with the U.S., and is well­known for hav­ing been a fun­da­men­tal­ist in the ne­go­ti­a­tion process.

Su­gawara, a for­mer vice trade min­is­ter, is ex­pected to han­dle the trade dis­putes be­tween the two. He is con­sid­ered one of the con­ser­va­tive fig­ures deny­ing the role of the Kono State­ment, a symbol of friendly re­la­tions be­tween the two by ac­knowl­edg­ing Ja­pan’s co­er­cion to col­o­nize the Korean Penin­sula.

Haguida, for­mer deputy chief cab­i­net sec­re­tary and a close sup­porter of Abe, is ex­pected to be in charge of re­vis­ing the text­books so that the coun­try can in­clude Ja­pan’s ter­ri­to­rial claim to Dokdo islets and mis­in­ter­pret­ing Ja­pan’s en­slave­ment of Kore­ans dur­ing its 1910-45 oc­cu­pa­tion of Korea, which has cre­ated con­tro­versy with Seoul.

Also, Ja­panese me­dia paid at­ten­tion to Koizumi for be­com­ing the third-youngest min­is­ter in Ja­pan since World War II, con­sid­er­ing him a prime min­is­ter hope­ful for the fu­ture.

These fig­ures are largely con­sid­ered loy­al­ists to Abe; many of them are core mem­bers of Nip­pon Kaigi, or Ja­pan Con­fer­ence, which is known as an ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist group with some 40,000 mem­bers in­clud­ing Abe, aim­ing to re­vise the Con­sti­tu­tion so that the coun­try can have an army and ini­ti­ate war.

The group is known to con­sist of Abe’s close aides and pow­er­ful politi­cians play­ing lead­ing roles in the Ja­panese po­lit­i­cal scene.

The reshuf­fle is largely seen as main­tain­ing sta­bil­ity of his ad­min­is­tra­tion and his rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party (LDP), given the fact that he hasn’t re­placed core mem­bers in­clud­ing Fi­nance Min­is­ter Taro Aso, Chief Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Yoshi­hide Suga and LDP Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Toshi­hiro Nikai and has ap­pointed his clos­est aides. How­ever, there have been ris­ing con­cerns that the re­la­tions be­tween Seoul and Tokyo would worsen as those fig­ures ap­pear to be sup­port­ing Abe’s hard­line and con­ser­va­tive stances against South Korea over the han­dling of his­tor­i­cal and trade is­sues cre­ated by the wartime forced la­bor is­sue since last year in par­tic­u­lar.

The re­la­tions be­tween Seoul and Tokyo have been de­te­ri­o­rat­ing since last year. Ja­pan de­cided in July to tighten trade con­trols on key ma­te­ri­als be­ing ex­ported to South Korea and re­move South Korea from its trade whitelist, cit­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns in­volv­ing North Korea. The move is seen as an ap­par­ent re­tal­i­a­tion against the South’s Supreme Court rul­ing for Ja­panese firms to com­pen­sate sur­viv­ing South Korean victims of wartime forced la­bor. South Korea also pledged to ter­mi­nate its mil­i­tary pact with Ja­pan and re­vised its ex­port and im­port mea­sures for strate­gic ma­te­ri­als against Ja­pan, claim­ing to seek bet­ter con­trol of ex­ports to coun­tries that vi­o­late in­ter­na­tional ex­port con­trol sys­tems. Korea also filed a com­plaint with the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WTO) last week over Ja­pan’s “dis­crim­i­na­tory” trade re­stric­tions.

Ex­perts say Abe’s reshuf­fle has been in­flu­enced by do­mes­tic pol­i­tics rather than for­eign af­fairs in­clud­ing re­la­tions be­tween Seoul and Tokyo as he wants to pre­pare for the con­sti­tu­tional re­vi­sion as well as the gen­eral elec­tions in 2022. Abe’s term ends in Septem­ber 2021 un­less he changes the Con­sti­tu­tion over the prime min­is­ter’s ten­ure.

“The reshuf­fle was largely af­fected by do­mes­tic is­sues in­clud­ing the gov­ern­ment’s goal of the con­sti­tu­tional re­vi­sion ahead of its gen­eral elec­tion. Tokyo wants to re­main de­fen­sive or keep the cur­rent level of dis­putes when han­dling Korea-Ja­pan re­la­tions, mean­ing the Korea-Ja­pan re­la­tions are not their main agenda,” said Ha Jong-moon, pro­fes­sor of mod­ern Ja­panese his­tory at Han­shin Univer­sity.

Stress­ing that the change was to keep con­sis­tency in poli­cies, he said Ja­pan doesn’t need to take a strong ini­tia­tive to pres­sure South Korea be­fore Seoul makes a move. “It might be hard for Tokyo to make such hard­line moves as there are pos­si­bil­i­ties some ac­tions could be re­lated to an­other is­sue: trade dis­putes at the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion,” he said.

Park Won-gon, pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics at Han­dong Global Univer­sity, pointed out that the reshuf­fle hasn’t shown any fun­da­men­tal change and it will be a dif­fi­cult task to re­solve for any Ja­panese Cab­i­net, even for Abe.

“It is not likely that any reshuf­fle can largely change the cur­rent re­la­tions in­volv­ing the forced la­bor is­sue be­tween Seoul and Tokyo even though Abe holds the key to ev­ery­thing,” Park said.

He added that even though Abe is ob­vi­ously tap­ping into his­tor­i­cal re­vi­sion­ism, the key lies in the sex slav­ery and forced la­bor is­sues. Park urged the South Korean gov­ern­ment to make more proac­tive moves in ne­go­ti­at­ing with Ja­pan to re­store bi­lat­eral ties to some ex­tent.

Mean­while, some ex­perts ex­pected that Ja­pan’s reshuf­fle may have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the bi­lat­eral re­la­tions in var­i­ous fields, in­creas­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of Ja­pan tak­ing ad­di­tional eco­nomic re­tal­ia­tory moves against South Korea.

Yang Kee-ho, pro­fes­sor of Ja­panese stud­ies at SungKongHo­e Univer­sity, was quoted as say­ing to SBS CNBC, “Ja­pan’s trade re­stric­tions and other eco­nomic re­tal­i­a­tion against South Korea will not be lifted in the short term. So far, it is hard to ex­pect any­thing. There are still pos­si­bil­i­ties that Ja­pan would take ad­di­tional eco­nomic re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures.”

Ahn Duk-geun, pro­fes­sor of In­ter­na­tional Trade Law and Pol­icy at Seoul Na­tional Univer­sity, said, “Un­less the two change the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, there are signs that Ja­pan would raise the level of its re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures, cre­at­ing con­cerns that things will get worse for the mo­ment.”

Yang also urged the two coun­tries’ politi­cians, es­pe­cially Abe, to take ad­van­tage of the events such as the Ja­panese em­peror’s en­throne­ment on Oct. 22 and the ter­mi­na­tion date of GSOMIA on Nov. 22 to find some mid­dle ground be­tween the two coun­tries.


Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, front row cen­ter, poses with his new cab­i­net, for a group photo at the prime min­is­ter’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence in Tokyo, Sept. 11. Abe reshuf­fled his Cab­i­net, adding two women and the son of a for­mer leader to freshen his im­age but main­tain­ing con­ti­nu­ity on U.S.-ori­ented trade and se­cu­rity poli­cies.


Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe re­turns to the prime min­is­ter’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence in Tokyo, Sept. 11, af­ter the at­tes­ta­tion cer­e­mony for new cab­i­net min­is­ters at the Im­pe­rial Palace.

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