Hawkish Gen Nakatani to be new Japan defence minister: Govt spokesman

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Gen Nakatani is seen at the Lower House of the Parliament in Tokyo on Dec 24, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Gen Nakatani is seen at the Lower House of the Parliament in Tokyo on Dec 24, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) - Gen Nakatani has been named Japan's new defence minister in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday.

Nakatani, 57, a former defence minister, is in favour of Japan having the ability to hit enemy bases pre-emptively in the face of imminent attack.

He replaces Akinori Eto, who faced questions over his use of political funds.

The rest of the cabinet is unchanged, Suga added. The cabinet, Abe’s third since he returned to power late in 2012, will be sworn in later on Wednesday.

Abe’s choice of Nakatani for the defence portfolio is a nod to worries about growing threats from nuclear-armed North Korea and China.

Nakatani is a graduate of Japan’s National Defence Academy who briefly served in the armed forces. The former defence minister wants Japan to have the ability to hit enemy bases pre-emptively.

“If you think what would happen if the United States withdrew, we must consider (acquiring) the ability to respond, because we cannot just sit idly and await death,” Nakatani told Reuters earlier this year.

His appointment could draw fire from China, especially given Abe’s stated goal of a stronger security profile for Japan that includes passing a law in 2015 to reinterpret Japan’s pacifist constitution.

This would allow Japan to come to the aid of an ally and pave the way for its troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two.