Japan PM to reshuffle cabinet on Monday: Reports
TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to reshuffle his cabinet on Monday, with changes aimed at cooling a raging maritime dispute with China, according to reports.
Commentators say that as well as helping soothe the diplomatic wrangle, Mr Noda's reshuffle is a bid to boost his waning popularity and reinvigorate his government after a costly battle to pass tax legislation.
Mr Noda may tap Beijing-friendly Makiko Tanaka, 68, as a new addition to the cabinet, the Asahi Shimbun daily reported on Sunday. Ms 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.
Mr Noda is considering appointing Tanaka to a ministerial post to signal to Beijing Tokyo's intention of repairing the damaged relationship, the Asahi said.
The prime minister will likely 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 standoff with China over uninhabited islands known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China 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, which flared after South Korean President Lee Myung Bak paid a surprise visit to the islands last month.
Another highlight of the reshuffle is who will replace Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who is being propelled into a top party post.
Although Mr Azumi has not been universally popular in financial circles, there have been concerns of a policy gap now that he is departing, although the minister has assured there will be no "political vacuum".
Mr 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 factionally-riven party fearing for their seats, with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party seen likely to win a national ballot.
Japan's main opposition party chose former premier Shinzo Abe as its new leader last week, in a vote that could see him reinstated as prime minister.