TOKYO • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said Japan plans to hold a "two plus two" meeting of foreign and defence ministers with the US soon, to boost the alliance's deterrence in the face of North Korea's continued missile tests.
Mr Abe made the remarks in a news conference following a Cabinet reshuffle, in which Mr Taro Kono, who has strong ties with Washington, replaced Mr Fumio Kishida as Foreign Minister.
"North Korea's recent ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) launches clearly showed that the threat posed by North Korea has grown markedly for both countries," Mr Abe said.
"I believe strengthening the Japan-United States alliance is more necessary now than at any other time," he said.
Support for Mr Abe jumped after the Cabinet reshuffle, media polls showed yesterday, a development likely to help him as he seeks to tighten his grip on power, shaken by recent scandals and a crushing loss in Tokyo elections.
Mr Abe opted for safe hands over fresh faces in the Cabinet reshuffle, after gaffes and missteps by some members of his previous Cabinet, such as defence chief Tomomi Inada, sent his support ratings tumbling.
Many of those in the new line-up, which Mr Abe dubbed the "result- oriented Cabinet of professionals", were reappointed, such as Finance Minister Taro Aso, or returned to posts held before, including Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera.
SUPPORT FOR PM ABE
MAINICHI POLL: 35 per cent (up 9 points)
KYODO POLL: 44.4 per cent (up 8.6 points)
A poll by the Mainichi newspaper showed 35 per cent of respondents support Mr Abe's government, up nine points from a month ago, while a Kyodo news agency survey showed a rise in support of 8.6 points from the previous poll, to 44.4 per cent.
Mr Abe on Thursday praised Mr Fumio Kishida, who has taken over as chairman of his Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP's) policy research council. The move frees up Mr Kishida to challenge the Premier in an election for party president expected in September next year.
Mr Abe's struggles have raised tensions between the LDP's factions, one of which is headed by Mr Kishida.
"Mr Kishida achieved great things as foreign minister," Mr Abe told reporters later. "He is someone who will absolutely play a central role in the future of Japan, so now I have expectations of him taking responsibility for the whole range of party policy."
Meanwhile, Mr Kono on Thursday expressed hope for steady implementation of a 2015 pact with South Korea on the issue of "comfort women" forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.
Mr Kono is the son of former chief Cabinet secretary Yohei Kono, who wrote a landmark 1993 apology to the "comfort women".
"Regarding the issue of 'comfort women', Prime Minister Abe's statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, and an agreement between Japan and South Korea, are everything," Mr Kono said. "I think it is desirable for the agreement to be implemented steadily."